Death Anxiety Inspires Podcast About AI

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A podcast has incorporated the philosophical work of Ernest Becker and his theory on death. The cultural anthropologist Becker’s work Denial of Death was printed 50 years ago and won the Pulitzer Prize.

The podcast Spark Hunter is set two decades in the future and is about an artificial intelligence robot searching for the core of humanity and consciousness.

KB Miller, producer of the podcast for Fighter Steel Productions, said Becker’s work directly influenced Spark Hunter.

“Becker’s clear depiction of the human condition — the anxiety, facing the abyss — a classic tale of what every thinking person faces at some point in their life,” Miller noted. “We wanted to see what would happen if a robot took that journey.”

The podcast has topped the science fiction charts in English-speaking countries. The Ernest Becker Foundation, which advances knowledge about death anxiety, is based in Seattle.

Miller said the theory from Denial of Death inspired Spark Hunter’s initial idea but he and his co-creator looked beyond Becker for its conclusion. They found the work of Silvia Benso, a philosopher at Rochester Institute of Technology who has expanded on Becker’s work.

“All things have standing. Now, that’s a true and venerable thought in many Indigenous and eastern traditions,” Miller explained. “As Benso said, ‘Doesn’t that make every moment of every day a festival?’ ”

Miller pointed out Becker and Benso’s ideas still have weight and meaning today, adding Spark Hunter is an expression of those ideas.

“Every bump in my life and every bump that I have caused would have benefited from a clearer understanding of the essential connectedness to people and to the earth that softens our death anxiety and supports that daily festivity,” Miller remarked.

Featured photo: The podcast Spark Hunter explores the story of an artificial intelligence robot that goes rogue. (ipopba/Adobe Stock)

Eric Tegethoff

Eric Tegethoff is a journalist covering the Northwest. Eric has worked as a reporter for KBOO, XRAY FM, and Oregon Public Broadcasting in Portland, Oregon, as well as other print and digital news media. In 2012, Eric traveled to North Dakota to write about the Bakken region oil boom. He's also worked at a movie theater, as a campaign canvasser and quality assurance at a milk packaging factory. Eric is originally from Orlando, Florida. He graduated from the University of Florida in 2010.

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