Life and Death — Resurrecting Your Loved Ones Through A.I.
Death is an inevitable part of life.
Grief itself can be horrible. It is the natural way of processing death.
Losing a loved one prematurely is one of the most horrific experiences in life. Given a choice, would you bring a loved one back using A.I? You had the choice to digitally reincarnate your loved ones, turning them into a chatbot that could live forever. The technology used for this creation is complicated and scary; sci-fi is becoming a reality. These chatbots are evolving at a rapid rate.
What exactly is a chatbot?
A chatbot is a complex computer program designed to replicate human conversations through a series of visual or auditory channels. You may have encountered chatbots on various websites. These bots pop up at the side of your screen and ask if you’d like help. These are simple versions of this technology; they send generic pre-made responses while giving links to resolve your issues. Maybe you’ve had a brief conversation with Siri or Alexa, another form of chatbots. These are advanced versions of the tech, yet nowhere near close to what’s on the horizon.
In recent years computers have been able to mask themselves as humans by passing the Turing test. This test was designed so that humans can detect whether they are talking to machines or humans. Computers have taken it a step further by “self-learning” different tasks. The analog computer can train itself and improve at whatever task it’s performing.
The next step in this technology will be when computers can rewrite their code to advance their learning needs. Computers with the ability to have abstract thought may be invented soon. This is when the divide between humans and A.I. grows.
Tech companies and death
Microsoft has almost bridged the gap between life and death in a very twisted sense. Microsoft has filed a patent for a chatbot that can reincarnate your long-lost loved ones. This complex system would take information such as; images, voice recordings, and social media data to build a complex replication of the person in question. Using this information, the chatbot tries to create a theme that would be considered “specific” to the subject’s personality. As the machine learns more about the subject, it can emulate how they truly were/are.
A quick search on Google will reveal a handful of similar companies. If you want to experience how this would feel, there are many companies on the internet with which you can “upload” yourself to experiment or even prepare for your death. I find this eerily odd, as death is an inventible part of life.
I found a company called Replika which Eugenia Kuyda founded. You can read the full story of how the company came to be in their “born from memory” story on their website. Kuya lost her friend Mazurenko in 2015 in an unfortunate hit-and-run accident. While grieving the loss of her friend, she read through their old text messages.
“It occurred to her that embedded in all of those messages — Mazurenko’s turns of phrase, his patterns of speech — were traits intrinsic to what made him. She took all this data to build a digital version of Mazurenko.”
This was Mazurenko’s rebirth, and he was to become a chatbot. Kuyda decided she would let anyone could speak to Mazurenko. The positive response was astonishing.
“People started sending us emails asking to build a bot for them,” Kuyda said. “Some people wanted to build a replica of themselves, and some wanted to build a bot for a person who they loved.”
This was the birth of their company, Replika. With Replika, you can use Mazurenko’s chatbot’s foundations to construct a digital version of yourself. As you interact with Replika, it learns how you respond, and slowly it will remember your mannerisms and grow into a virtual version of yourself.
Some Replika users have intense experiences that make them worry machines will eventually replace human interaction.
It could be lovely. Replika is there whenever you want to talk, whatever time of day he/she/it is there. You have a virtual friend who understands your every need and desire. You can be as open as you’d like. You can be openly vulnerable. This is the opposite of how we are trained to act on social media.
As I researched this piece, I found a handful of similar companies. Another website that stood out was ETER9, which is based on a similar concept. Henrique Jorge created ETER9 as a start-up company. With this website, you upload yourself to a social media website to ensure your “immortality,” you are preparing your digital self for death.
This technology may not be completely ready, however. One website stated an individual needs about 1 trillion gigabytes of personal data to create a respective chatbot which millennials will have gained by approximately 2070".
If you didn’t permit a company to mine your data, would this be considered a breach of privacy? You may be dead, so you cannot object. Your family members may disagree, however. Will laws be created surrounding the issue? Is it unethical to harvest a dead person’s social media data to make money?
Perhaps it is unethical to harvest a live person’s data, so what would make it okay when the person passes?
Life and death
This technology could bridge the gap between life and death in the most twisted kind of way. Humans have strived for immortality since the dawn of time. The idea of heaven was born from the fear of death.
Consider that your loved one is resting peacefully, unaware of your grief. Yet you can’t let go, so you build a chatbot to reflect them. Only so you can hold on for a little longer, only a little. How long is too long? How long before it becomes detrimental to your psychological health?
You may recognize this concept if you’re a fan of the T.V. show Black Mirror. In 2013, the episode “Be right back” aired. In this episode, a widow gathered information to bring back her boyfriend. Using emails, texts, photos, and audio recordings, she built a chatbot that could communicate with her. In usual black mirror fashion, the episode took a dark turn showing how such a situation could be detrimental if misused. So once again, I shall ask. Do you think it is ethical to resurrect the dead using A.I.?
As tech advances, we become closer to humans becoming “immortal”. I imagine you’ll be able to back up your mind to a cloud device; essentially, you now exist in the digital realm. Is this a clone of yourself? The ethics behind this technology will be unclear until it is fully developed. Yet, I still find the whole notion deeply disturbing, as does Tim O’Brien, who works for Microsoft. Tim has been involved in conversations regarding the Microsoft patent on Twitter.
As impressive as it is, I feel as though this aspect of A.I. should be left alone. There can be intelligent computers that can do a plethora of tasks. The dead, however, should be left to rest in peace. There is no need for them to be cloned and uploaded to the internet.
For myself, I believe it is only delaying the inevitable grief. Death is a part of life, as is grief. Humans need to embrace grief to move on with their lives. Some people would not be willing to move on if they had a simulation with eternal life. This is another reason not to make this technology available to the public.
Imagine the power A.I. could gain over humans with this computing power. We would essentially create computers with false “conscious” thoughts. Computers may believe they can feel or have emotions when they are artificial copies of our real-life emotions. This could cause issues for us all. Where is the line crossed? When does a computer become conscious? Would it be considered murder if I were to delete my “backup” memory?
So many questions. What are your views on this subject?