Virtual beings, cyberpunk Keanu, AI creativity, & more

Welcome Cybercultural subscribers. Today’s edition has a virtual human vibe, with a dash of AI “creativity.” But amidst all the digital wizardry, let’s not forget the next generation of human cultural creators…

What You Need To Know 👀

  1. The rise of virtual beings to preserve your legacy online 👻

Fascinating story in The Washington Post about an increasingly sophisticated group of startups offering “digital human” technology to “preserve one’s legacy online forever.” One of the early users of this technology is Andrew Kaplan, 78, who has led a full life as a “globe-trotting war correspondent in his 20s, a member of the Israeli army who fought in the Six-Day War, successful entrepreneur and, later, the author of numerous spy novels and Hollywood scripts.” The WP explains:

“If all goes according to plan, future generations will be able to interact with him using mobile devices or voice computing platforms such as Amazon’s Alexa, asking him questions, eliciting stories and drawing upon a lifetime’s worth of advice long after his physical body is gone.”

My take: I’ve been intrigued with the concept of “virtual humans” for a while (see my 2016 novel ‘Presence’, which explores aspects of it). But while I think the idea of an interactive virtual being that can tell life stories is promising, we mustn’t forget that cultural content can also be a key part of someone’s online legacy. Indeed, it looks like Kaplan will leave behind a rich legacy of cultural content (his 1920s newspaper articles, his books, his scripts). In many ways I think that’s a more significant legacy than a virtual bot, no matter how sophisticated the technology becomes.

  1. ‘Cyberpunk 2077′ game to feature Keanu Reeves playing Johnny Silverhand 🎮

Variety reports on a deep dive video about the upcoming game ‘Cyberpunk 2077,’ which features Keanu Reeves:

“Keanu Reeves made a surprise appearance at E3 in June, announcing that “The Matrix” star would be appearing in the upcoming role-playing video game “Cyberpunk 2077” as a non-playable character named Johnny Silverhand.”

Here’s the video:

My take: I thought this was interesting in the context of the above story about virtual humans as an online legacy app. As the above video shows, we’re also seeing actual humans (Keanu Reeves in this case) being inserted into video games as characters. Effectively games are becoming more like movies, and this trend will likely accelerate as VR takes hold of the entertainment industry in the near future. This video is also intriguing from an interactive storytelling perspective, which again promises to be a big part of our cultural content future.

  1. Can Artificial Intelligence Be Creative? 🤖

JSTOR Daily posits that AI is becoming increasingly creative:

“Once we thought drivers, doctors, accountants, and lawyers were irreplaceable. And yet we are beginning to see computers encroaching on those fields. Now, even the most human of professions—those centered on creativity, something we thought of as uniquely human—seem to be programmable. Recently, Chase Bank found that machines generated ad copy that resonated better with audiences than human writers.”

My take: This type of story usually angers me, because I don’t believe machine intelligence will ever replace human creativity and art. But to be fair to the writer, Farah Mohammed, she concludes that “what we think of as creative work in the humanities is much more often about asking questions than it is about answering them.” I’d also add that as a consumer of cultural content, a big part of the appeal is immersing myself in the mind, vision and life experience of a fellow human traveller. That’s something an AI-generated Spotify song, for example, can never replicate. (One more thing: a more interesting question to me is what AI-augmented humans will create in the future, and whether that will ever be as compelling as current art.)

  1. Helping teens cope with the demands of the Attention Economy 🎨

Let’s re-focus now on human creativity. Jenny Odell wrote a lovely op-ed in The New York Times about how this generation of teenagers (Gen Z) are being time-squeezed, with apps like Instagram and TikTok adding to the daily pressure. She argues that we need to help them take a more expansive, luxuriant view of time, using art and other forms of cultural content (like history). She concludes:

“As students — and teachers and academic departments and the rest of society — feel the squeeze from a reductive, capitalist understanding of time and its “results,” it’s important to push back at whatever level we can. If we want students to be thinkers, then we need to give them time to think.”

My take: This is another reminder that the social media era we live in is not conducive to helping cultural content grow and thrive. Cultural content is already being squeezed out by the lightweight, attention-grabbing content that social media revels in. So as well as trying to address that (it’s why Cybercultural exists!), we also need to help the next generation of artists and creators break through the noise.

Good Reads 👓

Here’s a quick list of articles I’ve enjoyed reading recently:

Tweet of the day 🐦

Twitter user lily posts a thread about “all the characters [Keanu has] played named John.”



That’s the Monday update, hope you found it useful! Coming up Wednesday is this week’s in-depth analysis post, which will be made public to help get the word out to non-subscribers. Your early support of Cybercultural is much appreciated. 🙏