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  • ⚙️ ElevenLabs’ latest release highlights the issue of digital necromancy 

⚙️ ElevenLabs’ latest release highlights the issue of digital necromancy 

Good morning. Hope you all enjoyed the Fourth — one more day until the weekend.

Until then, we’re talking about ethics, consent and digital necromancy.

— Ian Krietzberg, Editor-in-Chief, The Deep View

In today’s newsletter:

AI for Good: Detecting cancer through sugar analysis

Source: Unsplash

One method of cancer detection involves the measurement of glycans (structures of sugar molecules found within our cells) by something called mass spectrometry

Currently, data from mass spectrometry measurements must be closely analyzed by humans, a process that could take days. Researchers at the University of Gothenburg developed a machine learning model — called CandyCrunch — that can accomplish the task in seconds. 

The details: The model was trained on more than 500,000 examples of glycan structures. 

  • The researchers found that it can calculate the exact sugar structure in 90% of cases. 

  • Researchers said it can be used to accelerate the discovery of new biomarkers for both the diagnosis and prognosis of cancer. 

Why it matters: "We believe that glycan analyses will become a bigger part of biological and clinical research now that we have automated the biggest bottleneck," Daniel Bojar, Associate Senior Lecturer in Bioinformatics at the University of Gothenburg, said. 

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Facebook’s AI training policy disrupted in Brazil

Source: Unsplash

Brazil’s data protection authority (ANPD) on Wednesday banned Meta from training its AI models on personal data in Brazil. The preventive measure is meant to protect citizens from “serious and irreparable damage.”

This comes not long after Meta, in an update to its privacy policy, gave itself permission to train its AI models on user content posted across its social platforms, from Instagram to Facebook and Messenger. 

  • The move has inspired a massive backlash, specifically from artists who quickly searched for more secure alternatives. 

The details: The ANPD said that Meta lacks a proper legal grounding to process personal data, is doing so without proper disclosures and is limiting the rights of its users. There are 102 million Brazillian users on Facebook alone. 

  • “Although users could object to the processing of personal data, there were excessive and unjustified obstacles to accessing the information and exercising this right,” the Authority said. 

  • The ANPD added that the information on Meta’s platforms is intended to be shared among circles of family and friends — “given this, in a preliminary analysis, there would not necessarily be an expectation that all this information  —  including that shared many years ago  — would be used to train AI systems, which were not even implemented when the information was shared.”

A Meta spokesperson told the AP that the move was a disappointment, saying: “This is a step backwards for innovation, competition in AI development and further delays bringing the benefits of AI to people in Brazil.” 

Meta has five working days to comply with the preventive measure or it could face fines of up to $50,000 per day. 

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  • Gen AI takes over finance: The leading applications and their challenges (VentureBeat).

  • China’s BYD is set to overtake Tesla as the top producer of BEVs (CNBC).

  • Why Microsoft shouldn’t be the top choice for AI-focused investors (The Information).

  • AI deals lift US venture capital funding to highest level in two years, data shows (Reuters).

Nintendo won’t use generative AI because of issues with IP rights

Source: Nintendo

In a recent Q&A with investors, Nintendo president Shuntaro Furukawa said that the company has no plans to use generative AI. 

His response: He said that game development and “AI-like” technology have always been closely related; similar tech has been used to control NPC movements. While genAI can be “more creative,” Furukawa said, “we also recognize that it has issues with intellectual property rights.”

  • "We have decades of know-how in creating optimal gaming experiences for our customers, and while we remain flexible in responding to technological developments, we hope to continue to deliver value that is unique to us and cannot be achieved through technology alone."

Zoom Out: Other gaming companies, including Xbox and EA, are openly pursuing the implementation of generative AI into their game development processes. 

This comes as layoffs in the game industry have recently spiked — more than 15,000 videogame workers were laid off in the past year or so. 

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ElevenLabs’ latest release highlights the issue of digital necromancy 

Source: ElevenLabs

In millennia past, ancients would gather to conduct rituals in an attempt to speak to the dead. The dead did not answer. 

Now, they can. Sort of. 

This week, AI startup ElevenLabs launched its Iconic Voices Collection, a library of AI-generated voices of late celebrities that users can now employ at will as narrators of chosen books, articles and stories. 

The collection includes the AI-generated voices of Judy Garland, James Dean, Burt Reynolds, and Sir Laurence Olivier. 

  • It comes as a result of partnerships ElevenLabs struck with each of their estates. The financial terms of these partnerships remain unclear. 

  • Liza Minnelli, Judy Garland’s daughter and the representative of her estate, said that her “family believes that this will bring new fans to Mama, and be exciting to those who already cherish the unparalleled legacy that Mama gave and continues to give to the world.”

Digital necromancy: The rise, first of social media, then of generative technologies, has in turn given rise to a field of study dubbed “digital necromancy,” which explores the idea of leveraging technology to synthesize digital clones of the dead. 

For some, these AI replications of lost loved ones have provided closure where nothing else could. Last year, Guardian spoke to several people who used ChatGPT to recreate the words and voices of their recently deceased parents. They cited “relief” at the results. 

  • In a similar, yet slightly different, arena is HereAfter AI, a memory service that preserves the stories (and voices) of lost loved ones in an interactive format. HereAfter ensures that the people being preserved have given their permission. 

  • There have also been instances over the years of digital celebrity reincarnations, from the more recent (and since removed) AI special of George Carlin to the digital return of the late Peter Cushing in Star Wars: Rogue One

The ethics of digital necromancy: There are, however, a number of ethical considerations at play here. 

  • Researchers have pointed out a few main issues: the ethics of commercialization, issues of misrepresentation of a deceased person’s beliefs and, of course, consent. 

  • Researchers have also suggested that it could prove an unhealthy addition to the grieving process, allowing people to maintain connections with facsimiles of their loved ones without ever having to move on. 

Some sociologists, meanwhile, have argued that this evolution of digital reanimation is not much different from photos and videos of loved ones, or of the music and film that famous actors and artists leave behind. 

But this offering by ElevenLabs is distinct from the ‘griefbots’ that are out there, Irina Raicu, director of the Internet Ethics Program at the Makkula Center for Applied Ethics, told The Deep View. 

  • “Beyond the lack of consent, with its inherent lack of respect for people's autonomy, and beyond appropriation of something as personal as voice, there's the whole broader issue of misrepresentation,” she said. “This tech makes it easy to mislead people into thinking that key figures, in this case dead celebrities, said something that they never actually said. Given some people's affection toward such figures, that could be a boost to all kinds of messaging.”

  • Raicu said that this appropriation of dead celebrities as “vocal puppets to be played with” is part of a wider trend of tech companies trying to normalize the taking of all kinds of data without user consent. 

“Digital necromancy is vile,” artist Jon Neimeister said in response to ElevenLabs’ release. “The dead cannot consent.”

I am reminded of the suggestion Helen Toner made several weeks ago, to think about how AI is impacting your life, and how you want AI to impact your life. 

Frankly, I find this disturbing.

ElevenLabs might have the permission of these actors’ estates, but the actors themselves could never have given their consent for something like this. Judy Garland — the spotlight of this launch — passed away in 1969. The internet did not even exist then, let alone social media or generative AI.

And there is a strange coldness behind it all; statistics and probabilities hiding behind the illusory voice of the familiar. The idea that people might hear Judy Garland — or any celebrity, or any dead person — narrating a piece of text, or ‘speaking’ as the result of a prompt, and think for a moment that that person is, in some way alive, or somehow understands and recognizes the world, the prompter, the words on the page … it feels wrong, ripe for misuse and anti-human. 

We are reaching a point where the difference between ‘real’ and ‘fake’ is beginning to mean less and less. The difference between life and death is beginning to mean less and less.

This is an example of the transfiguration of vibrant humanity into content destined for consumption. We are more than what this promises to reduce us to. 

“Remember Ursula, the evil witch who takes the voice of the Little Mermaid precisely because it's beloved?” Raicu said. “Would we have felt better about her if she'd offered up that taken voice for the narration of articles and newsletters?”

Which image is real?

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A poll before you go

Thanks for reading today’s edition of The Deep View!

We’ll see you in the next one.

Your view on AI and the climate:

Just about half of you said that an AI shutdown to save the climate won’t happen, so it doesn’t matter.

It’s complicated:

  • “To enjoy the benefits of AI, we need to grow proportionately or even exponentially more in green and renewable energy. If we cover 1% of the earth's surface with solar panels, we meet our civilization’s energy need for the foreseeable future.”

Shut it down:

  • “AI is a huge waste of energy. I'm really not impressed with what I've seen and it is frankly creepy. If they contained it to areas where it will benefit people in medical science or robotics for manufacturing — the boring tedious jobs — that would be one thing, but they are stealing the potential for people to do creative work and replacing it with images that all look the same. Given the environmental impact, I wish they would just stop and turn it all off until they have figured out how to do this without ripping off people's work and hogging energy.”

What do you think about the idea of digital necromancy?

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