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She kept his pyjamas beneath her pillow for years. Late at night, whenever the pain of losing him became too much, whenever she was overwhelmed by the emptiness of the bed she had shared with him for so long, she reached for those pyjamas and buried her face in them, slowly breathing him in.
Family and friends supported her, but the scent of the man my mother-in-law had adored for almost 40 years provided the most comfort.
On those nights when nothing seemed to make sense, when anguish gave way to bitterness over the cancer that had claimed him too soon, the smell of his skin, his sweat, his cologne - that unique fragrance of him - calmed her enough to allow some fitful sleep.
Those pyjamas remained under my mother-in-law's pillow long after her husband's aroma faded. Who could blame her? It's those reminders of the small but important things when we lose someone we've loved - their smell, the sound of their voice, the way their eyes crinkled when they smiled - that eases our grief, rewarding us with something of them we can cling to.
I was reminded of the consoling power of those pyjamas while scrolling through the endless reactions to 'Now and Then', the final song produced and released last week by The Beatles, thanks to the rapidly developing technology of artificial intelligence.
Thousands struggled with words to describe how they felt. Hundreds more posted photographs and videos of themselves unabashedly crying. These were fans shedding tears of joy and gratitude, overcome that something treasured from their past had been returned to them.
But it wasn't just the song - an unmistakable John Lennon ballad recorded at home and left unfinished half a century earlier - triggering all that emotion. It was also the accompanying video of Lennon; poking faces, smiling cheekily and singing along with his bandmates, that left many wet-eyed and breathless.
I've never understood the whole Beatles thing. The fanatical devotion. The zealous belief they forever changed music and popular culture. But every time I watch that video of 'Now and Then' I find myself gulping hard.
I know it's a trick generated by AI. A damn good one, too. But observing a reconstituted John Lennon looking so alive makes me want to call a great mate I recently lost, to hear his voice again, to talk once more about those things that amused, angered and delighted us.
It's also forced me to rethink some of the concerns we share about AI - not the threat of it stealing our jobs and replacing or even wiping us out, but its ability to blur that increasingly murky line between fact and fiction.
We already live in a world of elusive truths driven by deep fake footage. Even Hollywood, that destination where most great ideas go to die, is expertly resurrecting actors who died long ago.
Eric Schwitzgebel, a philosophy professor at the University of California, has raised the prospect of a future where we increasingly communicate with each other by remote video. How would you know if your grandmother on the other end of the call was real or fake?
"This is spooky enough," he says. "But I want to consider a more radical possibility...that we might come to not care very much whether grandma is human or deep fake."
The next wave of AI will do more than reassemble deceased people from faded pictures, blurry videos and scratchy audio tapes. "The pace of AI development is the fastest of any technology in history," billionaire Elon Musk recently told a bewildered British PM Rishi Sunak. "It's developing at five-fold, ten-fold per year."
The so-called "Grief Tech" industry already allows the dead to speak at their own funerals and answer questions from mourners. In the near future it will enable them to chat with us in conversations indistinguishable from those with the living. We will interact with them - perhaps even be able to smell them - while joking about how the afterlife isn't all it's cracked up to be.
We already hold on to the dead in our troves of photographs and videos. And science tells us that we can't even trust our memories, that we buff, polish and reinvent them constantly to suit our own interpretation of the past.
So what could be wrong with AI doing it so much better? If it can make us weep over a long-dead John Lennon and reunite us with our departed, is that any different to breathing in the scent of a man you lost too soon?
HAVE YOUR SAY: Would you engage with an AI-generated version of a departed loved one? How have you coped with losing someone close to you? And have you heard Now and Then - the final Beatles song? Email us: firstname.lastname@example.org
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IN CASE YOU MISSED IT:
- Pauline Hanson has escaped censure over her latest effort to tell Pakistan-born Australian Greens senator Mehreen Faruqi to "go home" after withdrawing her remarks, but the Senate President has still read Senators the riot act over parliamentary behaviour.
- Kmart Australia has pulled a Merry Ham-mas calico bag from shelves. The bag, designed to store Christmas ham, is dotted with yuletide motifs and an inadvertent play on the words of terrorist organisation Hamas. The Australian Jewish Association complained to Kmart's parent company Wesfarmers that the resemblance between the bag's slogan and the terrorist group Hamas "may cause the company some embarrassment".
- Thousands of Australian children are being targeted with "sextortion" attempts each year in a dramatic increase in the number of minors subject to image-based blackmail. The Australian Federal Police says the Australian Centre to Counter Child Exploitation (ACCCE), which it leads, has been receiving around 300 reports of sextortion targeting children every month.
THEY SAID IT: ""The life of the dead is placed in the memory of the living." - Marcus Tullius Cicero
YOU SAID IT: The Optus meltdown, the silent CEO and our reliance on technology that can fail with catastrophic consequences.
There's a silver lining in every cloud, writes Peter: "The good news is that I missed my twice daily scam phone calls. Not that I answer them as I have set my phone to Silence Unknown Callers. I assume that the scammers will be submitting a compensation claim to Optus for lost revenue. Hat tip to keep up the excellent work."
"How satisfying was it to watch yet another overpaid, underperforming CEO clearly out of their depth," writes Daniel who reconnected with a prepaid SIM card from another telco bought for such an event. "It's truly astounding that so many organisations don't have any semblance of a basic business continuity plan. There was certainly no evidence of any plans at Optus. The CEO's talking points should've been lifted straight from the plan. Stupidity can only be covered so long before it truly shows itself."
Ian C writes: "I can picture the Optus executives in past meetings to review corporate risk. The consequences of the event yesterday would have been ranked as Major or even Catastrophic, but since it was clearly unforseen it would have been assessed as very unlikely. This would result in a moderate risk profile and acceptable to the corporate appetite for risk. No need to mitigate this risk, so no need to make sure that alternate modes of communication are available within the organisation other than the Optus network. Oops. It is right to demand an explanation from Optus, but we should also demand that other telecommunication providers tell us how they would manage a similar event."
Ian W has similar concerns: "The amount of trouble and angst this Optus outage of yesterday caused demonstrates how central our telecommunications and our smartphones have become to our daily lives and to the functioning of our society. How would our society cope if, instead of a 12-hour outage by one carrier, we were to experience an outage lasting days or even weeks from multiple carriers? Societal meltdown I fear! Causes of such outages could be successful cyber attacks, system failures, or a massive solar flare event such as the Carrington Event of 1859 which caused telegraph systems to spark and fail. A geomagnetic storm of the scale of the Carrington Event occurring today would seriously disrupt our communication and navigation systems as well as potentially damage much of the electrical power grid."
"Unable to buy coffee, trains not running, not able to call relatives and friends and Triple-0 not working are somewhat inconvenient but unable to receive The Echidna is really serious and unacceptable," writes Arthur. "It emphasises how important it is to have inbuilt redundancy in our telecommunication system and the need to have a reliable backup when systems fail which they inevitably will."
Terry writes: "Optus executives could not contact the minister or media because they all have Optus accounts. I'm retired and don't trust big business at all. There is very little proper customer service. I had my own business and soon found out all about customer service. Turn up at the appointed time and do the job properly. This simple trick made our business very successful."
"Double delight this morning to find you in my inbox at 3am," writes Joan, whose email went silent during the outage. "Responded with delight to the over-wrapping problems besetting us humans with ageing hands, fingers and eyes. Then to my delight (and amused embarrassment ) discovered a different Echidna later. Oh dear, Apparently I didn't read Echidna for Wednesday on Wednesday. So I got two Echidnas in one day."
Jenny writes: "I didn't trust corporate Australia to begin with and awhile back when Optus tried to convince me to change my internet over to them as well as my mobile - my usual diplomatic response went out the window. 'What and put my trust in just one carrier - and possibly be totally cut off in an outage? You must be kidding!' Four years on. I have to admit I was feeling a little smug on Wednesday for my foresight, but feeling very sorry for others cut off completely of course, who may have needed to call 000. At least with my internet I got to read your Wednesday gripes column."
"Yes I was a victim of Optus's lack of communication," writes Rosemary. "No, I don't care because I am a 76-year-old retiree who is not capable of doing useful work. Thank you always for your complete honesty, John."