Magda Osman

Magda Osman tells us about her work on a project exploring issues relating to digital immortality – this project took place as part of the Turing’s public engagement grant award.

Tell me about the public engagement project you’ve been involved in?

The project is called ‘The Ethics of Digital Immortality and Digital Bodies’ and was in collaboration with FUEL who are an arts producer (shows, festivals, films, installations, podcasts, apps and books). FUEL had recently produced a play called "Dead body in Taos" which inspired the research I then became involved in. 

The play is about the ethical, legal and emotional implications of using artificial intelligence (AI) to become digitally immortal (the process of uploading, storing, or transferring a person's personality into a digital entity or cyberspace). Some of the other public engagement activities from this project included podcasts, and brilliant visuals to help make the scientific concepts accessible and engaging.

What interested you in this project?

The themes of the play really get to the core of what makes us human, and explore our relationship with next generation technologies – I thought that this was a great opportunity to engage with people on these topics. 

What did you find out from your research?

The research idea was simple: why not ask people questions relating to how much they know about digital immortality, and the technological advances we are making in this area. For example, how much more information on digital immortality do people want to know? And would knowing more lead them to change their views? Do people want laws to be in place to prevent digital immortality from happening? 

So, we asked two groups of people these questions, some that hadn’t seen the play or engaged with the podcasts, and others that had. We found that by asking people to think about the topic of digital immortality through the activities we created, more people were interested in research, more were concerned, and also more called to introduce policies around the topic.  

A career highlight so far?

Getting a chance to work with arts organisations has been inspiring and challenging. It’s been a real test of what I know, and has made me think about what I don’t know. I think opportunities like this are good for any researcher that wants to sharpen their skills and learn to communicate their ideas better. Hopefully the impact of this project is to show that there are a number of ways of generating research, and that the research itself can also be a vehicle for public engagement.  

Magda is speaking in the session 'How to make an impact: Public participation stories' at AI UK 2023 - register for your online ticket.