In a story that has profound and unsettling implications on how humans are designed to interact with the dead, Change the Ref, a nonprofit run by the parents of a young man killed in the Parkland school shooting, released a realistic CGI video of their late son encouraging and urging watchers to vote on gun control.
This mind-bending, deeply disturbing video features 17 year-old Joaquin Oliver, one of 17 students who lost their lives when mass shooter Nikolas Cruz rampaged through Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida in 2018
Using sophisticated 3D Modeling and audio tracking, the Oliver’s have recreated their son using Artificial Intelligence and Deep Fake technology for the purpose of creating a Public Service Announcement. The message? Urging people to support gun safety and gun control legislation and “replace” the vote his parents say he would have made if he and the rest of the Parkland victims would have lived.
“Yo, It’s me—it’s Guac,” he says. “I’ve been gone for two years and nothing’s changed, bro. People are still getting killed by guns. Everyone knows it, but they don’t do anything. I’m tired of waiting for someone to fix it. The election in November is the first one I could have voted in, but I’ll never get to choose the kind of world I wanted to live in, so you’ve got to replace my vote. … Vote for politicians who care more about people’s lives than the gun lobby’s money. Vote for people not getting shot, bro. Vote for me, because I can’t. We’ve got to keep on fighting and we’ve got to end this.”
This is not the first time his parents have recreated him, though this is certainly the most realistic. In 2019, they teamed up with an agency to make a 3D image his likeness which they brought to different rallies and political events across the country, using his body and likeness top promulgate their mission.
Once the deepfake has been made, a process that costs tens of thousands of dollars but rapidly becoming more affordable, the parents could input a script into the machine and the young man could say anything back to them, living in their computers. Using CGI to bring children and loved ones back from the dead is alarming and deeply disconcerting, and using them to promote political viewpoints even more so.
While this isn’t a topic that the church and theologians have even scratched the surface of, given its novelty and recent reality, there is much work to do. We need a comprehensive biblical framework and systematic theology seeking to determine the scriptures that would be used to either promote or defend these actions, whether or not the actions of the parents are beneficial, sinful, or adiaphora, and how to view those that come to a different conclusion.