What would have happened if Abraham Lincoln could have addressed Congress today? Or could a great.grandmother have continued to run the family business?
Researchers and entrepreneurs are beginning to think about how artificial intelligence can produce post.mortem versions of people – not just as static replicas for the benefit of their families but as evolving digital entities that can lead companies or influence global events.
Some start.ups are already anticipating a huge demand for electronic personalities, including the company Replika, an app that learns to replicate a human in the form of a robot that can conduct written conversations online; And HereAfter AI, which records people’s life stories and uses them to produce a copy stored on a smart speaker.
Big tech companies also recognize the potential: Microsoft recently patented a method for using call robots to preserve historical figures and living people. A Microsoft spokeswoman says FH has no plans to use the method.
Digital characters can take many forms, from conversation robots through electronic animals to three.dimensional projections that move and talk like the real thing. Artificial intelligence is often a key element in building and training the characters to communicate with people. There are already holograms of already deceased musicians, including Roy Orbison and Tupac Shakur, who have performed on stage.
As part of Microsoft’s patent, two of the company’s inventors, Dustin Abramson and Joseph Johnson, describe a conversation robot that uses data from social networks, voice recordings and written material to “train a conversation robot to talk and interact with a specific person’s personality.” This person, so patented, “may be a character from the present or the past (or his version), such as a friend, relative, acquaintance, celebrity, fictional character or historical character.” The patent describes how the conversation robot can mimic a person’s voice and interact using two. or three.dimensional images “in order to create a more realistic and humane conversation experience.“
As digital characters get closer to the real thing, they may be able to learn and evolve even after the death of the original, and adapt to new events as they happen. This will give them a kind of digital eternal life – not only can it preserve the personality but allow it to continue living imaginatively.
Such “immortal” characters can continue to interact with their families, friends or relatives long after their death, and become part of historical and genealogical research. They can also be sent into space on spacecraft to explore the universe and go further than any human can for the rest of their lives, said David Barden, author and CEO of Daden, a British company that manufactures call robots.
Living people may use digital duplicates of themselves who write e.mails or talk to acquaintances in order to be able to work more efficiently, or fill their place when they are on vacation, Barden says. It’s easy to see this area evolving rapidly as an Alon Musk.style executive may want to use a digital personality to run a company after his death, he said.
“People who have set up organizations or companies don’t really want to pass the reins on,” he said. “Why not just give them something planned to continue to develop the company according to their original thought?”
And there are drawbacks as well
Like many visions of the future, this too has drawbacks. First, imaginary characters are inherently imperfect because they are often based on speech, writing, social media posts and other data that do not necessarily capture the essence of a particular person. A digital character built through artificial intelligence has no awareness.
The company may have to deal with questions like who owns the digital character of someone who has died and everything the character does. Should imaginary characters have rights? Does their existence mean that people will not be able to fully mourn the loss of friends or relatives who have been preserved in this way?
Characters can be created even without their source knowledge or consent, if there is enough public information about them to teach a model of artificial intelligence to mimic the real character. It will be possible to revive historical figures, whether they want to or not.
Successful replicas of celebrities or politicians may allow them to influence future events and shape the post.mortem world. David Sisto, a philosopher at the University of Turin in Italy and a writer who has focused on the issue of death in digital culture, says he hopes it will not be possible for a politician like former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi to have a digital figure who continues to operate non.stop in public space after his death.
In some ways, says Sisto, a digital ghost is just a continuation of the way people have wanted to stay close to the dead or communicate with them throughout human history.