S2E1: Be Right Back

Recap

The two main characters, Martha and Ash, live what appears to be a normal life in the country together. Ash goes to return the moving van and is killed in the process, although it’s unclear exactly how he dies. Martha grieves, finding out she is pregnant shortly after Ash dies. At his funeral, her sister mentions a service that allows people to “talk to the dead.” At first, Martha is appalled by such an idea and makes a scene at the funeral, but later ends up trying the service out. She starts out just using a chat feature, which pulls together all of Ash’s social media profiles, posts, statuses, etc. to create an AI version of himself, almost like a bot. Eventually, more data such as photos and videos are uploaded to the service, and Martha begins to speak on the phone with “Ash.” This escalates to her ordering what looks like a synthetic body, which she then “activates” in the tub. It creates a human-like thing that represents Ash, except for a few small details. At first Martha appears happy with the creation, but she frequently says things like “Ash wouldn’t say that,” frustrating her that the synthetic Ash isn’t exactly like the real one was. The artificial Ash doesn’t show a lot of emotion and can’t react to new situations if he never had a similar situation in real life that was recorded by a photo or video. Eventually, Martha brings fake Ash to a cliff and tells him to jump. Ash says he will, but Martha is frustrated that he doesn’t fight back. Ash then starts to beg her not to make him jump, but Martha knows he’s only saying that because she told him to fight back. The last couple minutes fast forward to many years later to Martha’s daughter’s seventh birthday. Fake Ash is forced to stay in the attic, but Martha allows her to see him occasionally, such as in special situations like her birthday. Martha is shown fighting back tears as the episode ends.

Themes

1. Social media documentation – Nowadays, people feel the need to document almost everything on social media. Whether it’s posting a Snapchat of your trip to the movies or an Instagram post of the coffee you had at lunch, seemingly insignificant life moments are being etched into people’s digital footprints by their own choice. There were many moments where fake Ash seemed to have a hole in his personality that was likely because he didn’t post enough on social media. Or at least enough to make his recreated self 100 percent accurate. It would be impossible to completely mimic one’s full life on social media, but this service suggests that posting more frequently might be more beneficial in the long run if you’re ever synthetically brought back to life.

2. Artificial intelligence/right to creation – Artificial intelligence is growing and has existed in the form of “bots” for a long time. There’s even things like Siri and Cortana that allow audio to come into play. Is there a realistic way to take it to the next step? It may seem great at first, but in the case of Martha, she quickly realized that even relatively accurate AI can still be underwhelming because we constantly crave the real thing. Also, if this service were real, it brings up the question of who has the right to create. Society would be really different if synthetic versions of dead people were walking around all over the place (of course as long as they’re close by to their creator). Allowing for this technology might open up a Pandora’s box that we’d never be able to close.

3. Desire for companionship – Inherently, humans generally desire some sort of companionship. Martha can’t resist trying out the service that allows for her to message with Ash because she misses him so much. Even though she finds it creepy at first, she becomes obsessed with it because she just wants things to be the way they were. Humans will go to great lengths to find companionship of some kind, and in this case, even if it means talking to a dead person. And once you start out with messaging, if you know there are other levels to the communication (such as audio or literal recreation of the person), many people might be curious enough to try it out. We might never know for sure, but we know Martha sure was.

JOUR 325 says…

Questions

  1. We’ve argued throughout the class that people’s social media selves aren’t the same as their real selves. Would this drastically affect the average person’s artificial self if they were brought back from the dead like Ash? If people paint a better picture of themselves on social media than real life, would the artificial recreations even be comparable to what the person was actually like?
  2. If this service were real and popular, in general do you think it’d encourage people to post more frequently on social media? What about yourselves?
  3. What does this say about the power of creation? In the novel Frankenstein it grapples with the topic of who has the right to create another being. While fake Ash didn’t seem dangerous at all, what are the moral and ethical consequences of creating a synthetic version of someone who’s died?
  4. Would you all ever use this service to bring back a loved one? Would you ever want someone to do the same for you if you died?
  5. Martha was shown crying at the end, but she didn’t choose to get rid of the fake Ash. Do you think she became content with the fact that fake Ash couldn’t ever be the same as real Ash? Do you think she only kept him around for her child’s sake?
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