Death Tech. Voice Fakery.

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Yes, Death Tech is a thing. 

I was hanging out at the lounge in Mandarin Oriental, in New York, waiting for David Simchi-Levi (who happened to be in the city, doing his supply chain thing, a sheer coincidence and completely unplanned meetup) when I saw that today’s Fortune article — Tech can’t solve death. But startups increasingly want to help with what comes after— quoting me:

Sridhar Tayur, professor of operations management at Carnegie Mellon University’s Tepper School of Business, says that people are turning to death tech because of improved technology. For instance, voice synthesizing technology can now read text while mimicking your dead grandmother’s voice, something impossible just a few years ago.

You may have heard of the Roadrunner (documentary on Anthony Bourdain) controversy:

Anthony Bourdain Documentary Used AI To Fake His Voice

Basically, AI can “mimic” a person’s voice if given enough samples. 

I have been an advisor to VocalID – founded by Rupal Patel – for many years (five or six). I met Rupal (along with Liz Powers, who has a great social enterprise called Art Lifting) when I did my TieScaleUp lectures in Boston (at that time Anu Yadav was the Executive Director of TieBoston). Check out Rupal’s very popular TED talk:

Synthetic Voices, as unique as fingerprints

Why was I back in NYC? Well, as I wrote in KaRmA, I am working with a Hedge Fund on Quantum Inspired Algorithms, and I was meeting the CEO, CIO (Chief Investment Officer) and CTO to discuss next steps at their office, and then have dinner to continue the conversation.

Since I had time during the two days in NYC, I decided to enjoy a few art related things.

Wenesday Afternoon. Pier 36. Van Gogh Immersion.  Mesmerizing. Here is a sample.

Thursday Morning. At Metropolitan Museum of Art, a delightful 31-minute (or so) walk through Central Park from the hotel where I was staying. Not exactly where one would consider listening to Vishnu Sahasranamam, my favorite version is by M.S. Subbulakshmi, but since that is also about 31-minutes long, I could not resist playing it as I strolled through the park, past the fountains, down the steps, through the tunnels.

Two wonderful exhibits, one on Women in Cinema behind the Camera and the other, a retrospective of the artist Alice Neel.

Alice Neel: People Come First is the first museum retrospective in New York of American artist Alice Neel (1900–1984) in twenty years. This ambitious survey positions Neel as one of the century’s most radical painters, a champion of social justice whose longstanding commitment to humanist principles inspired her life as well as her art, as demonstrated in the approximately one hundred paintings, drawings, and watercolors that will appear in The Met’s survey.

Images of activists demonstrating against fascism and racism appear alongside paintings of impoverished victims of the Great Depression, as well as portraits of Neel’s neighbors in Spanish Harlem, leaders from a wide range of political organizations, queer artists and performers, and members of New York’s global diaspora. 

What do I think about how to make Voice Fakery a successful business model?

To succeed, Tayur, the Carnegie Mellon professor, says that death tech companies should focus on wealthy clients to start with. Doing so is one way to create a trend because the middle class tends to follow suit.

That’s what happened with cremation. After wealthy people increasingly adopted the practice in the early 20th century, people in lower income groups followed. By 2023, 59.4% of people are expected to be cremated, according to the Cremation Association of North America.

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