Tell Me a Story, Great-Grandfather
Pass a virtual version of yourself down to your descendants? Maybe.
Scientists at MIT are working on a project they call “Augmented Eternity.” They want to create a system that could collect your digital identity from your emails, chats, and of course, any writing like this and use that to create a virtual image of you. The result would be a bot that could answer questions as you might. If they also process audio and video, someday it might even look like you and sound like you, including speech patterns. With enough data, this could be quite realistic.
Imagine being able to talk with your great-grandfather. Imagine setting him to be eighteen or thirty-five and seeing how his answers might have changed. That could be possible soon and may become a popular legacy as people record written and spoken conversations with a bot specifically designed to analyze and learn how to be you. As part of the training, you could converse with it and correct any errors or nuance that you observe.
At some point, the bots could also learn about you from other bots who have data collected from your relatives and friends. Collecting different impressions of the same incident or relationship could provide more accurate results.
I’m assuming that you could set privacy options that would keep your data private, allow you to share it with specific people. You might choose to release it publically only after your death. A truly sophisticated bot might be allowed to answer certain types of questions and be a source of income for some of us with expertise and experience.
Some bots might even become famous as Internet celebrities. There may be a market for reconstructed bots: this is what your 16th century ancestor may have been like based on other people from the same time and place.
Or, you might give your grandchildren a version that will tell bedtime stories.
“Tell me a story, great-grand-papa?”
“Of course, Sandy. When I was a very young man, I visited a castle in a far away land..”
“What’s a castle, pop-pop-pop?”
“Oh, a castle is a special place where kings and queens and princesses live..”
“YOU MET A PRINCESS?”
“No, sweetheart, but your mom said you have to get up early tomorrow, so let’s do less questions and more story, okay?”
To a far lesser extent, this has already happened. A woman named Eugenia Kuyda made a chatbot from a dead friend’s text messages. Of course, that was a small set of data, and as she points out, the chatbot only knows how to talk to her. It doesn’t know how her friend might have spoken to a child, a stranger, another friend.
But with enough data, it could be more realistic and accurate. It could be even more so if people deliberately provided data only for the bot’s consumption, as I suggested above. With the consent of all parties, family or other group conversations could provide multiple streams of useful information for the future digital reincarnation.
If the technology became accurate enough, the digital you might be able to testify in legal actions. Imagine a lawyer asking my iPhone if it can provide guidance on a confusing or contradictory part of my will!
What a fascinating concept! I’d be willing to dump all of my correspondence and storytelling into the digital digestive system and happily spend a few minutes here and there chatting with a bot about my opinions, memories, and wishes. If enough people did this, a future historian would have a valuable resource.
And someday a child might chat with a far distant ancestor about the toys and games children played hundreds of years in the past.