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Hologram Controversy

The 21st October 2020 marked Kim Kardashian’s 40th birthday. The star celebrated by taking a large group of friends to a private island – something critics have considered rather ‘tone-deaf’ given the current state of the world. This was, however, not the only controversy to come out of Kardashian’s birthday. The second being a very personal present given to her by husband, Kanye West: a talking hologram of her late father, Rob Kardashian.

The use of the hologram has received mixed reviews from the public and celebrities alike. Caitlin Moran jokingly remarked: “I feel there’s a giveaway moment where you can tell Kanye wrote the script for Kim’s dead dad’s hologram: ‘Kimberley, you are married to the most, most, most, most, most, most, most genius man in the world.'” Whilst most have seen the funny side to this particular excerpt of the speech, it has sparked the interest of digital ethicist, Per Axbom. He remarks that “even if a person gives their consent to being used as a hologram, is it possible for this to be an informed consent?” Referring to the section about Kanye, this opinion is not one we can be certain that Rob Kardashian held and certainly not something that he could have consented to being portrayed as saying. This raises certain questions about the use of holograms and the way they can display people’s thoughts and opinions outside of their control. Perhaps in this instance the ethical concerns appear rather far-fetched, but when put in the context of using the same technology to manipulate political figures, for the dissemination of ‘fake news’, the situation appears rather bleak.

As ever, it appears that the fears of futuristic technology of this nature have been made aware to us through the pioneers of the digital ages’ worst enemy: Black Mirror. The news of Kardashian’s present certainly reminded me of season five’s third episode, Rachel, Jack and Ashley Too. The episode follows the story of Ashley O, a well-loved pop singer, who, it transpires, is having her creativity stunted by a controlling aunt – culminating in Ashley being placed in a coma and her live performances being replaced with … a hologram. The episode attempts to shed light on the dangers that lie in this imitative technology and the worst case scenario of when this technological power falls into the wrong hands.

What the last few years have certainly shown us is the dangers that arise through the spread of misinformation, especially in the case of politics – something that is further aggravated by the reach and immediacy provided by social media. Kardashian posted a video of the hologram on her Instagram and Twitter on the 29 October 2020, within hours every major news outlet had reported on the matter, with transcripts of everything ‘hologram Rob Kardashian’ was stated to have said and Instagram, Twitter and Facebook feeds awash with accounts. The speed with which his words were reproduced highlights how quickly misinformation could spread. The backlash that Facebook, Twitter and other tech giants have received for failing to self-regulate the amount of misinformation spread across their platforms emphasises the urgency of this issue.

While I think we can all agree, in this instance no one was attempting to be deceptive and this article is in no way an attempt to vilify what, I am sure, was an extremely well intentioned (and received) present. However, it does raise interesting questions about the dangers of technological advancement without checks and balances and brings home the concerns voiced by those such as Per Axbom about the need to consider the ethical ramifications of technological development.

3rd Year History Student at Bristol University
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