Seeing Ghosts

    You have probably seen smartphone apps that purport to find ghosts in your environment. Usually there is some sort of radar-looking interface and fake science to it. It’s all silly and harmless.

    But let me tell you about the ghost-finding app that someone is certain to make in the next ten years.

    Imagine an app that searches obituaries online and matches those names to last-known addresses from public data. Then the app finds facial images and some sort of biography online to match each of the names and addresses. Most of us have our images on the Internet now, and that will approach 100% over time.

    The biographies might be pulled from the fragments of various online social media profiles and posts. The app might find obituaries, blog mentions, or even news items. Someday the Internet will “know” all of us well enough to auto-create a bio and obituary at the time of death. 

    Now imagine you have this app. You could walk down a street and “see” through your phone’s screen the digitally-created floating ghosts near the last place each of them lived. The faces would be rendered from online photos and the bodies would be generic, whispy-floaty images. The semi-transparent animated ghosts would be transposed on the real-world scenery that a user sees when pointing a camera.

    To add creepiness to creepiness, assume the ghost faces morph slowly from one age of the deceased as shown in photos to another. And because some available photos might show the person facing left, some right, and some straight ahead, you could animate the ghost faces to slowly look toward you as you look at them on your smartphone’s display.

    A-a-a-a-a-and … the ghosts can talk. At least some of them can. Someday most folks will have a video and audio presence on the Internet. Your voice samples could be converted to whatever level of AI is available at the time. In the early generations if you tap a ghost image you see on your screen it can answer some simple, Siri-like questions about the local environment and the ghost’s own biography. Obviously you would add some ghost humor to the app so it could respond to users asking funny questions. 

    And if the app has a lot of photos from which to animate the head, it can also animate the lips by finding photos that show teeth and those that do not. That is enough to animate the lips during speech as long as the image is rendered as a semi-transparent, liquid-like, ever-morphing face. With that model the lips don’t need to be closely matched to the words. You want more of a zombie-mouth look to fit the vibe anyway.

    Version 1.0 of this app could be limited to dead celebrity ghosts because the images, voice clips, and bios would be readily available. Version 2.0 could include anyone who had an extensive Internet presence. Eventually we will all be characters in the app’s alternate universe. (Unless we already are, obviously.)

    This app will make for a great walking tour.

    In Top Tech Blog:

    Scientists have built a cloaking device. But it only works on small objects. Even Daniel Radcliffe is too tall for it, in case you wondered. Industrial designers will probably show interest if only to make the buttons on all of my devices even harder to find.

    And how about a case for your phone that harvests meaningful energy from your phone’s radio signals? Do you believe that works? I don’t. But only because it sounds like the sort of thing that never works. I hope it does.

    And NASA successfully tested an electromagnetic propulsion unit in a vacuum. Ironically, it did not suck. (Vacuum humor!)


    Blah, blah, blah best graduation gift of all time, not counting money.