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Bot Immortality

The most interesting things I’ve read in a long time is an article in the Verge about a woman who built a bot out of her friend’s old text messages.  It is subtitled: “When her best friend died, she rebuilt him using artificial intelligence.”

So begin there.

Photographers may try to remember people with images, and writers may jot down all of the stories, but Eugenia Kuyda — the “her” in the story — is an inventor of bots, so it makes sense that she would use her chosen art form to memorialize her friend.  But in memorializing him, she was able to sort of… speak… with him again, for lack of a better word.

Reading Mazurenko’s messages, it occurred to Kuyda that they might serve as the basis for a different kind of bot — one that mimicked an individual person’s speech patterns. Aided by a rapidly developing neural network, perhaps she could speak with her friend once again.

She set aside for a moment the questions that were already beginning to nag at her.

What if it didn’t sound like him?

What if it did?

I’ll admit that I read this article because I love this idea.  I’ve written before about Bina48 and similar projects.  I have a hard time with goodbyes and letting go, so this intermediary step feels like an insurance plan, a way to still connect with the person after they’re gone.  Even if it isn’t totally “them” in the sense that you are communicating in real time with the actual person.  Except… you sort of are, right?

As the article points out: “Modern life all but ensures that we leave behind vast digital archives — text messages, photos, posts on social media — and we are only beginning to consider what role they should play in mourning.”  What do we do with all the digital pieces of our personality that we leave behind?

I would want this.  Even if it extended the mourning period.  Even if it was painful at times.  I would want something like this very badly.

What are your thoughts?


1 Cristy { 10.18.16 at 8:31 am }

Prior to the Information Age, we built memorials to love ones lost. Grave markers, photos and sometimes preserving their living spaces. This reminds me of that. I view it as a way to grief and say goodbye. It’s not extending grief, but a vehicle to process it. Just a more modern platform.

2 a { 10.18.16 at 8:39 am }

After all the services, at my aunt’s funeral lunch last month, my cousin passed around a video of my aunt saying “Thank you! It was beautiful!” (It had been previously recorded as a response to a birthday singing telegram). It was hilarious and timely and apt. But I don’t think I’d want an AI bot responding to me. That would just be too much fantasy mixing into reality.

3 Lori Lavender Luz { 10.18.16 at 2:34 pm }

I think I would want this, too. I’ve noticed that with my living loved ones, I can conjure a motion picture of them in my mind, imagining them doing something.

But as soon as someone dies, I can only access still photos. Mind photos from memories. Nothing progressing. Only static. I wonder if such a bot would affect my abilities…?

You make me think.

4 Mom PharmD { 10.19.16 at 9:24 pm }

A good friend died 18 months ago and her husband is sharing her old social media posts. It’s very bittersweet to see her words and photos again but it’s also nice to remember when she was with us too. I’m not sure I could do something like this if it were someone I loved who wanted their words shared again though, so the automation idea seems like a good one to me.

(c) 2006 Melissa S. Ford
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