“Black Mirror” has an uncanny ability to predict the future. Considering the dystopian nature of the show, that isn’t necessarily a good thing. From robot dogs to social rating systems, the critically-acclaimed show has already called a number of things.
Now, “Black Mirror” has done it again. This time, it’s because Microsoft has filed a patent for tech that studies a person’s personality and turns them into a chatbot, CNET reports. Fans of the show recall a 2013 episode called “Be Right Back,” that saw its main character interacting with an artificial intelligence (AI) recreation of her dead boyfriend.
Although it doesn’t appear that Microsoft has plans to make chatbots based on the personalities of dead people, the tech exists to do so. It raises plenty of questions about whether or not it is ethical and who would be able to utilize it.
Back to Life
The patent in question was originally filed back in 2017, however, it just secured approval this month. It lists Dustin Abramson and Joseph Johnson Jr. as the inventors of the technology.
The patent outlines a way to immortalize the deceased with an AI-based chatbot that talks like them. The inventors suggest using social media posts and other online content to do so. It would be interesting to see how realistic this type of chatbot would be. Most people on social media don’t talk like they do in real life. This could lead to an AI bot that speaks in memes and disgruntled musings rather than thoughtful sentences.
While the thought of “talking” to a deceased loved one—even over text—is nice, it is also complex. No one would find solace in chatting with an AI that is a crude or incomplete replica of their loved one. That’s exactly the risk associated with this approach.
Most people would give anything to have one more conversation with a loved one that has passed. At the same time, society has a very taboo view of death.
Should tech like this ever escape the world of patents and become reality, there would be plenty of ethics to sort out. For instance, could you create an AI version of a dead person without consent from their family?
Microsoft’s patent clearly mentions that the bot could be trained with public information like social media posts. Technically, this means someone could be digitally resurrected in chatbot form without any type of consent.
Although this certainly feels unethical, it’s unlikely that society will need to sort through the implications anytime soon. Most technology patents like this one never come to fruition. Moreover, it doesn’t appear that Microsoft has any plans to utilize it.
Tim O’Brien, the company’s general manager of AI programs, said on Twitter, “At any rate, confirmed that there’s no plan for this. But if I ever get a job writing for Black Mirror, I’ll know to go to the USPTO website for story ideas.”
He also noted that the tech is “disturbing” and that the patent was applied for prior to Microsoft’s current AI ethics review practices were put into place.