Very bleak news from the tech world, which is taking gone but not forgotten to a new level. Microsoft has filed a patent to create chatbots based on the personalities of your deceased loved ones. The idea is that this new AI would be able to imitate the deceased by analyzing their “images, voice data, social media posts, electronic messages” and so on, and allowing those of us who are still alive to have a simulated conversation with them.
Wow, can’t get get more dystopian than that, you say. Well, keep reading. Microsoft is apparently also speculating that “images and depth information, or video data” could be used to mimic a video model of the person in question. That’s a little further down the road but it’s definitely on the table, meaning you could conceivably have a conversation with a creepily accurate simulation of a long gone loved one. With a world like this, who needs Black Mirror? (Actually, as lots of people on social media have noted, the whole concept is pretty similar to “Be Right Back,” a Black Mirror episode from season two. It doesn’t go great.)
“The specific person [who 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.,” the patent explains. “The specific person may also correspond to oneself (e.g., the user creating/training the chat bot.” There’s a lot in there that could use a little more explanation (“a version thereof”??) but the broad intentions seem pretty clear.
For as long as humanity has existed, there have been two genres of our attempts to cheat death. The first comes as getting ahead death itself, with health and science rushing to preserve earthly life as long as possible. The second is more for those of us have a hard time letting go of the ones we love, and want a way to keep them around. For the time being, tech is unable to pierce that veil, which is just as well. There’s no shortage of scifi movies replete with warnings about the monkeys’ paws that curl when man tries to play God.
As Hebrews has it. “Just as people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment.” There isn’t much getting around the fact that when loved ones die, we won’t be the ones bringing them back. But in this patent, at least, Microsoft seems to be hoping people might be interested in the next best thing.
Tyler Huckabee is RELEVANT's senior editor. He lives in Nashville with his wife, dog and Twitter account.