Unfinished Votes, a new voting initiative which has brought Parkland shooting victim Joaquin Oliver "back to life digitally" via AI technology to mobilize young voters, has disturbed me in a way that I have not felt in years.
Manuel and Patricia Oliver, parents of Joaquin, teamed up with artists from the initiative to launch a campaign film which has all but body snatched their son from his eternal rest to be puppeteered by binary code to promote a political message.
“Every day nearly one hundred more families lose someone they love to gun violence." says Manuel during the video's introduction. "Every single day. We keep telling people it doesn’t have to be like this. They don’t listen. So we found a way to bring back someone that no one will ignore."
The disturbing video uses Joaquin's likeness, voice, mannerisms, and even his syntax to create a hollow, pyrite mockery of a once living young man.
"I’ll never get to choose the kind of world that I wanted to live in. So you’ve got to replace my vote," CGI Joaquin says in the video. "Vote for politicians who care more about people’s lives than the gun lobby’s money. Vote for people not getting shot, bro."
It's unclear to me what the motives behind the technology are, exactly. While it's possible that the parents of Joaquin have genuinely good intentions and want to carry on their son's legacy, the groundbreaking initiative may be "revolutionary" in the same way biologists in the 1940s believed that the newly developed Agent Orange would forever change the way humanity produced soybean crops; we do not actually know how this tool will be used, and if this well intentioned step forward could cause us serious lasting damage.
Functional grief of a loved one's passing allows those left behind to understand the gravity of traumatic situations. We have all lost loved ones, and we should all understand that a proper period of mourning is essential.
This became obvious to me when I visited the small coastal town of Alvarado, Mexico, four years after my mother's passing. Much of my family in Alvarado—a fishing town of about 20,000—rely heavily on selling their daily haul in town markets to pay the bills. A funeral in Canada only weeks before Christmas was out of the question, and most were unable to attend.
It would be my first time back in my mother's hometown since her passing, where I would be visiting to lay her ashes in the city's cemetery. While it had been four years since her death, the ceremony gave her loved ones a defined opportunity to mourn, and to say goodbye one last time. To be honest, I was not expecting the ceremony to be as sad as it was, but as I watched the ceremony go on, it became clear that their behaviour was both appropriate and necessary for them to move forward.
This technology, which allows the dead to be paraded around to espouse words they had never said and promote messages that we aren't even certain the deceased would have believed in, has turned Joaquin Oliver's funeral into a sham.
This is not a portrayal of Joaquin in a play, or a movie made to carry on his legacy—this message is intended to simulate Joaquin, as a message from the dead, almost as if to create a post-death legacy of Joaquin the human. This is not the son of Manuel and Patricia Oliver—this is a thinly veiled piece of propaganda.
Parents need to be permitted to mourn. This technology throws a significant wrench into the gears of how humans have mourned since the beginning of our history, and we should all be wary of it. If (God forbid) I were to die before my father, I would hope he understood that with my body and likeness come my choice. I do not consent to being body snatched and paraded to fill the lacuna left from my passing. I already believe in eternal life—there is no need for that to be complicated.
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Remind me next month