The Future Of (2022) s01e07 Episode Script

Life After Death

[soft pulsating music plays]
[Jurnee Smollett] It's been a while
since you've seen your friend
and you've been missing him.
So you grab a few beers and you head
to your usual hangout spot.
The park.
But this isn't just any ordinary park,
and this isn't your run-of-the-mill tree.
This one can talk back to you.
This is the cemetery of the future,
and it's full of living memorials.
These trees don't just signify loved ones,
they actually embody them.
[woman 1] Would I want to be able
to talk with a loved one?
The first response is like, "Oh my God"
"No!" Then there's another
part that's like, "But wait."
[Smollett] The big sleep, the Grim Reaper.
No matter what you want to call it,
death is something
we all have to go through.
And for loved ones we leave behind,
it can be a painful process.
But in the future,
technology could make it all
a little more bearable,
and even more sustainable.
[man 1] You're creating something
which is actually
truly regenerative for the planet.
[woman 2] The temperature goes up,
and the outcome is soil.
[Smollett] We could still see
our loved ones even after they're gone.
We're talking about digital afterlife.
[woman 3] It's the big "What if?"
What if you could keep on
talking to your spouse?
This is a moment
where sci-fi becomes true.
The future is about to be a ride, okay?
[theme music plays]
[quiet piano music plays]
What I do hope for my own death. Um
That is an interesting question.
Wow. Um, I had never thought about that.
[Smollett] Death is the last thing
that most of us want to think about.
Luckily, there are people who can help us
plan for our final moments.
My name is Alua Arthur,
and I'm a death doula.
A death doula is somebody
who does all of the holistic,
non-medical care and support
of the dying person through the process.
There's a lot that people don't plan for.
They often think about money,
but don't think
about all the other things.
They don't think
about their digital assets.
[Smollett] Instead,
people are usually focused
on their physical remains.
There's so many different ways
to approach burial,
so many different ways.
[Smollett] Tibetan Buddhists leave out
the deceased's remains in hopes that birds
will carry their wishes to heaven.
Navies practice burials at sea.
And the Toraja people in Indonesia
keep dead loved ones in their homes.
In Ghana, where I'm from,
we sometimes bury people in a coffin
that looks like what they did
in their profession. It's kinda funny.
For me, they might just
bury me in a coffin?
I guess. [laughs]
People have a lot of misconceptions
around death and dying,
mostly because
of how it's portrayed in the media.
[Smollett] With so many portrayals
in American pop culture,
you may think of funerals
as large gatherings at a cemetery
or around the headstone of a TV character
with a questionable epitaph.
It's a nickname!
[Smollett] But today around 56%
of Americans are being cremated.
In other countries, it's over 80%,
and it's an increasingly popular practice
around the world.
So why the change?
Well, it comes down to cost,
and there's one movie in particular that
shows us just how annoying they can be.
- I assume this is credit?
- Yeah.
Can't we just rent it from you, man?
Sir, this is a mortuary,
not a rental house.
- We're scattering the ashes.
- Whoa, Walter.
Just because we're bereaved,
doesn't make us saps!
[Smollett] End-of-life services
have become a $20 billion-a-year industry.
Even Costco sells coffins.
Everyone is looking
for ways to save money.
[woman 1] My mother-in-law,
she was cremated.
We even laughed literally while we were
standing there with the urn she picked,
which was very It was the cheapest one
that they would allow her to buy.
[Smollett] Meanwhile, conventional burials
pose a different issue.
Hey, Steve! [chuckles]
- Some ominous cemetery vibes today.
- [Steve] Yeah, really.
[woman 2] This one's here.
They've been here since the Civil War.
It is now 2021
and here we are
refreshing their headstones.
I can get down there and
My name is Cole Imperi and I am
a thanatologist, a death companion,
and I also serve as the board president
of a cemetery in Covington, Kentucky.
Isn't this beautiful, like just the color?
It's beautiful. It's like art.
[Imperi] One of the challenges
that we're facing
is we don't really have
any more plots available.
Twenty-two thousand
or so people bought plots
and their expectation is that
they would have those plots forever.
And a lot of very, very old cemeteries
are in the same boat.
How do we keep the ground safe?
How do we keep everything maintained?
Um, costs keep going up.
It's the reality of what happens
hundreds of years
after someone is buried somewhere.
[Smollett] The harder it is
for cemeteries to be maintained,
the harder it will be for us
to visit and grieve for the dead.
There are eco-friendly solutions
out there though,
but they aren't the norm.
Making these hard decisions
can leave us feeling overwhelmed
during an already overwhelming time,
but people like
Alua Arthur and Cole Imperi
help guide the bereaved
through the process.
Summer Jeanetti recently lost a loved one.
[Jeanetti] I remember sitting
in the living room.
Like [nervous laugh]
"My dad is dead,"
and, pardon my bluntness, but I was like,
"How the fuck do you pick a funeral home?"
There should be, like, an owner's manual.
Like, "Idiots Guide to
all of these essential things
that every single person
will have to deal with,
but no one ever talks about."
[Smollett] And today, it's not just
our physical remains we have to deal with.
There's a whole digital world
of stuff we leave behind.
[woman 3] Pretty much everybody
has digital remains.
I'm Elaine Kasket. I write primarily
about death and the digital.
Ha! [laughs] It wasn't
my original last name,
it was the name of a husband
I don't have anymore,
and it was a name that I elected
to keep because it fit. [laughs]
[Smollett] Every day, humans produce
massive amounts of digital exhaust fumes.
One study suggests that each of us creates
1.7 megabytes of data every second.
It's not just your social media accounts,
it's web searches,
emails and text threads,
posts on message boards.
Websites are storing vast troves
of information even after you're dead.
[Kasket] All these things
have a digital counterpart
and these things stick around by default.
They don't just automatically disappear
when you do.
So back in the early days of social media,
Facebook kind of had
a delete-upon-death policy.
After the Virginia Tech massacre,
that shifted.
The bereaved came to Facebook and said,
"Please don't delete these profiles."
The way that we grieve is changing,
and one way is that we're still able
to engage with
their social media profile and presence.
[woman 4] When my aunt died,
we had to make the difficult decision of
do we memorialize her page
and essentially archive it
through Facebook, Instagram?
And our family decided together
to leave it active.
We're saying, "No, Twitter,
no, Facebook, or no, Instagram."
"I need you to maintain this for me."
Like you might say
to the people who run the cemetery,
"Hey, I need you to maintain this grave
so that when I come and visit,
it's going to be how I want it to be."
[Smollett] Within the next century,
there could be potentially
just as many Facebook profiles
for the dead as there are for the living.
We're talking about billions of profiles.
For tech companies,
handling digital remains
will become an increasingly important part
of their business models moving forward.
Just as they profit off
of us while we're alive,
they can continue to profit off
of us after we're dead.
[Smollett] Giving life after death
a whole new meaning.
[dramatic music plays]
But all that digital evidence of
our lives doesn't just have to sit there.
What if there were entirely new ways
to use our digital remains?
[light music plays]
[Smollett] In the near future,
you'll be able to use digital remains
to recreate dead loved ones.
You'll even be able
to communicate with them.
We asked Cole Imperi to explore
one way this could happen,
using a voice-cloning
AI-software called Descript.
I talked for like 30 minutes,
read a script,
sent it off, and now it's ready,
so we're gonna see what the results are.
[Descript] Hello. My name is Cole.
I am based in Kentucky
and work as a thanatologist full-time.
I sound like myself. That is weird.
That is so weird. I feel weird.
[Smollett] Voice-cloning software
could allow us to leave behind
a version of ourselves for the bereaved.
So the software can absolutely manipulate
our digital legacies,
perhaps in a way that we hadn't
really anticipated or thought through.
Type something else. What's like like
[playful music plays]
Thank you for attending my funeral today.
I lived a good life.
[playful music ends]
[voice breaks] The thing
I don't know why that's making me,
like, emotional.
So weird [inhales]
- That's weird. I don't know!
- Well, it is weird. It is weird.
[Smollett] There are ways
we could potentially use this tech.
It was controversially used
to recreate Anthony Bourdain's voice
for a 2021 documentary.
While actor Val Kilmer worked with
a company to reproduce his voice
following throat surgery.
Soon it won't just be voice cloning.
There will be a visual component too,
like deepfake videos,
or like in 2020
when Kanye West gifted Kim Kardashian
a hologram of her late father.
[man 3] We already have the ability
to use, uh, holographic images of people
or to put on film people
and have them say things they never said.
We can have Tupac Shakur rap
and sing with someone he's never met.
I mean, Tupac may still be around.
We don't really know.
My name is Charles Isbell.
I am a professor
and the John P. Imlay Jr. Dean at
the College of Computing at Georgia Tech.
[Smollett] In years to come,
you may be able to do more
than just simulate dead loved ones.
You might interact with them
through chatbots.
[Isbell] You could think of Siri
as a very simple chatbot.
Alexa is a very simple chatbot.
[Smollett] By combining the power
of artificial intelligence
that we see in voice cloning
and deepfakes,
with all the data we leave behind,
we can create a new kind of chatbot
that could alter the way
we prepare for death.
What we're giving to chatbots
is actual examples of texts or emails
or interactions on social media.
We'll get better at it
just through the passage of time,
and I can build a model of you.
So we're talking
about the idea of digital afterlife.
[Smollett] We'll create digital avatars
that look and sound like us.
And they'll be able to talk
to the people we leave behind.
[Kasket] It's the big "What if?"
What if you could keep on
talking to your spouse?
What if you could have
that last conversation
with your son or daughter?
This is a moment
where sci-fi becomes true.
[Smollett] It sounds unbelievable,
but it's already happening.
The longing to stay in touch
with the deceased
has inspired some tech-savvy folks
to create chatbot versions
of those that have passed.
In the future, not only will you
be able to do this for others,
over the course of your life,
you yourself will be able to select
which photos you'd like to save
or which stories you'd like to pass on.
It will change how people are remembered.
What's important to me is
that everybody is able to choose.
"Yes. I want that." "No, I don't."
But the most important part of death
is taking care of our grief
for the survivors.
I'm not sure I'm ready to see that, uh,
but I think it's a cool idea with merit.
[man 4] The thought excites me,
but also scares me.
My faith really is very cautious when
it comes to representation after death.
Immortality, at the end of the day,
is really nothing more than
your great-great-grandchildren
knowing your name.
The idea that people long after I'm gone
would know what I was thinking
and what I was like is, I think,
quite a lovely and amazing thought.
[Smollett] But if we aren't careful,
tech companies could put
their bottom lines ahead of our grief.
Some of these companies
are more powerful than governments.
For-profit corporations
that were not designed to this purpose,
that are not archivists,
that are not, uh,
grief-counseling organizations.
[Smollett] As long as we don't have
full ownership over our data,
our digital remains may be used
in ways we never intended.
[Kasket] Who can have access to this data?
Who can't? What can you do with this?
What form does it take?
What shape does it take?
And that's a very, very powerful position.
[Smollett] How would you feel
if companies were brazen enough
to use dead loved ones
to advertise something
they never believed in?
[Isbell] When I think
about worst-case scenarios,
one is that I personally
get misrepresented.
My image, my likeness,
even the sound of my voice,
the way that I use my hands when I talk
are being used to have me represent
a position I would never represent.
Does eventually Disney get
to take me and use me
because it's just out there in the world?
That is an extremely difficult question.
[Smollett] In the future,
there will be even more questions.
Not just about our digital remains,
but our physical ones.
What will we do with people's bodies?
Well, one day
you could become a tree, seriously.
It's called human composting.
Pioneered by a Seattle-based company,
the process can turn a human body
into a cubic yard of soil in just 30 days.
In 2019, Washington became the first state
to legalize human composting,
paving the way for many more states
and countries to follow.
For those of us that really care
about how we're using our body
while we're here
and also our impact
on the earth while we're here,
it's a really great alternative.
[Smollett] Instead of putting
more concrete or plastic into the earth,
we'll be replenishing it with more soil.
[Imperi] I could totally see Linden Grove
being a place that receives
people's soil donations
and then we're able to utilize
those throughout our grounds.
Human composting could revolutionize
how we think about memorial sites.
This is an area now, which is amazing.
What rituals are they gonna put
around receiving the soil?
Do you put it in the tomato garden?
Would you feel weird about that?
[Arthur] How great would it be
to have the opportunity
to be with somebody you loved
in a new way?
You know, to continue those bonds,
but through their body having
nourished some food you're eating,
or some milkweed
that brings butterflies around.
[Smollett] As lovely as this all sounds,
it's actually just the beginning
because in the far future, you could do so
much more with these composted remains.
They'll be the key to unlocking a way
for us to take care
of everything we leave behind.
It will meld our physical,
digital, and spiritual remains.
[electronic music plays]
[Smollett] You're walking through
the cemetery of the future,
but it's no longer headstones
and burial plots.
It's acres and acres of trees
and they're growing
from our composted remains.
[woman 5] Imagine that we're able
to go to a place where
that compost has fed and sustained
and grown beautiful trees,
maybe the person's favorite tree.
[Smollett] These trees won't just store
our physical remains.
They'll also store our digital ones.
When we visit our loved ones,
we'll be greeted with an avatar
of the person we can interact with.
It's an ultra-sophisticated chatbot
accessed through a computer
and stored within a tree.
It's all because of how we'll be able
to store data in the future,
through DNA.
[electronic music plays]
[man 1] So when we think about DNA,
we know that's the language of life.
What we've discovered more recently
is that DNA is also a system
of data storage or information storage.
I'm Cyrus. I'm an artist,
designer, and futurist.
[Smollett] In the far future,
photos, text files, audio clips,
the data that makes up
our digital remains,
can one day be stored
in an entirely new way.
[Clarke] Digital files
are usually expressed in zeros and ones.
DNA is written
in four letters, A, T, C, and G.
What we've been doing recently
is just changing the language,
translating into A, T, C, and G.
And in that way, we can actually store
data in the language of life, in DNA.
[Smollett] And if biochemistry
is not your best subject,
what this means is
that instead of hard drives,
we'll be able to store our data in DNA.
Except imagine the hard drive
is much smaller and more eco-friendly.
And it's already possible.
In 2019, Catalog, a Boston-based startup,
announced that they stored the entirety
of Wikipedia's English-language platform
into strands of DNA.
Much like computers today
read zeros and ones
to show you a picture of your dog,
the computers of tomorrow
could read data off of DNA.
It all adds up to us being able
to store our digital avatars
in living organisms,
organisms like plants.
[Clarke] If you can work
with plants to store your data,
well, what you have there is a system
which not only doesn't require energy,
it creates its own energy.
You're creating something which is
truly regenerative for the planet.
Human composting, your digital legacy,
imagine if all of this
could come together.
[Smollett] You'll have full ownership
over your digital remains.
You'll be able to dictate
the privacy settings you want
because these forests will be managed
by a sort of cemetery IT guy.
They'll keep away
not grave robbers, but grave hackers.
And for all the other ways that these
trees will change our lives in the future,
well, you'll just have to watch
our houseplants episode.
And for those who don't mind opening up
their digital afterlives to the public,
they'll finally give us a way to learn
more about those who came before us.
[Imperi] I'm always like,
"Who was that person in their life?"
Like, "I wish there was a way
that I could learn about that person,
but through their own words."
[Smollett] In the future,
you could chat with a tree
to get to know them.
I'm able to either learn from them
or just acknowledge them
and commemorate what they did.
[Smollett] But most importantly,
how we process death
will continue to be a personal choice.
With this tech, any object can become
an urn or any place a memorial.
Some people will want to talk with their
friends and family as often as possible,
others not so much.
So everyone can choose
how they want to process their loss.
Because as we all know, grief is hard.
Being thrown into that situation
I couldn't even function.
[Imperi] Just being like,
"I have to bury my dad."
[nervous laugh] Especially because
I'm not ready for him to be gone yet.
[Smollett] Even though death
will still be inevitable in the future,
technology will hopefully help us to mourn
or to move forward at our own pace.
So for my own dying,
I would love to be
on a deck someplace outside.
I want the sun to be going down.
When I die, I would like to,
hopefully, be wrapped in a shroud.
What probably every Muslim hopes
for their death,
that I die in the state of submission
to the only God that we worship.
[Arthur] I'd love to smell
some Nag Champa incense.
I was that kid that
was barefoot running through the hills.
And so being returned to the soil,
to me, makes me feel the most
at peace with how I left the earth.
[Arthur] We're all gonna die someday.
I wanna make sure that their dying looks
as much like their life as possible.
That answer your question?
[theme music plays]
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