Not to get super heavy or anything, but let me ask you: have you ever wished for just one more conversation with a loved one who's passed on?
I think it's fairly safe to say that most people would answer yes to this question in some capacity - I know I sure would. I have said good-bye to many wonderful people in my life, and although when times get tough I can still hear them in my head and in my heart enough to imagine a pep talk from them, it's no substitute for having them here, in the flesh, sitting across the table from me.
I say all of this in order to set up a piece of news that I stumbled upon today that both piqued my curiosity and perplexed me greatly at the same time: Microsoft has been granted a patent that would allow them to make a chatbot using the personal information of deceased people.
Say what, now?
The patent, which you can read here, describes a bot that is based on the "images, voice data, social media posts, electronic messages," and other personal information. According to Microsoft, the person the chat bot represents may "correspond to a past or present entity (or a version thereof), such as a friend, a relative, an acquaintance, a celebrity, a fictional character, a historical figure, a random entity, etc." I don't know about you, but this seems like it could skirt into some really awkward and potentially uncomfortable or morally sketchy areas.
The patent also suggests that the person the bot is emulating may "correspond to oneself," which means that you could potentially train a digital replacement in the event of your death. The notion of a 2D or 3D model of a specific person being generated via images and video data is also included in the patent.
The idea of being able to speak to a simulation of a person isn't new - the idea has been woven into the fabric of Science Fiction for years. Let's be frank: no technologically created entity is ever going to replace a person. Sure, maybe it might elicit some fond memories, but - it's still fake. It's almost like a simulation, but one that would be all too eerie for me, personally.
The technology also isn't really just science fiction anymore, either - there are some real world examples of this idea, from Kim Kardashian, who was gifted a 3-minute hologram of her late father, to the founder of the tech company Luca, who used 8,000 lines of text messages to create a chatbot that mimicked her late friend's way of speaking.
I can respect the technology and acknowledge how far science in the world of tech has come, but for me there's a line that I draw at a digital recreation of a loved one who is meant to converse with me. I could even see how something like this might be able to help certain people process their grief by finding the reminders of conversations past and the promise of new ones, however constructed.
I wonder what Microsoft, ultimately, aims to do with this idea. What about you? Does the idea of this technology excite or repulse you? Share your thoughts with me!