MICROSOFT’S UNIQUE PATENT
Almost eight years ago, season two of the sci-fi series Black Mirror arrived on Netflix with an eerie episode anchored around grief. Now, the technology deployed on the show is appearing in real ways.
To recap, the show introduced viewers to Martha, a young woman grappling with the loss of her partner, Ash, who died in a car crash. At his funeral, Martha finds out about a digital service that would enable her to communicate with a chatbot version of her late partner.
She reluctantly subscribes to it.
“I only came here to say one thing. I’m pregnant,” Martha revealed to the fake Ash. The chatbot responds: “Wow. So, I’ll be a dad? I wish I was there with you.”
It’s a haunting episode based on a not-too far-fetched premise now that companies are racing to create digitized human clones capable of engaging with real-world people.
Last month, news broke that Microsoft received a patent for software that could reincarnate people as a chatbot.
The computer software giant patented ‘conversational’ chatbots based on a specific person, dead or alive, and would work by pulling data from the person’s social media posts and text messages, just like the unnamed software on Black Mirror.
“The social data may be used to create or modify a special index in the theme of the specific person’s personality,” the registered patent says.
The tech giant would then use that information to train machine learning engines, and the result would be artificial intelligence that could ‘think’ and respond like someone you knew.
Many are rightfully questioning the ethics behind scouring social media for memories left by dead people to turn a profit. Microsoft did not say why it filed for the patent but points to a tweet from its general manager of AI programs, who said, “there’s no plan for this”.
Still, there is not much stopping them or any other firm from doing so, AI analysts say.
After all, we are living through an era marked by surveillance capitalism where the object up for sale is your personal data. We are also living through an artificial intelligence revolution that is unlocking new ways to replicate humans, and firms are racing to develop clones that serve a host of purposes.
CHATBOTS AND DEEPFAKES
Chatbots, or automated text and voice robots, have been around for years, mostly to answer generic questions over the phone or on a website. However, they’re getting smarter over time as firms toss emotional intelligence, graphic manipulation and audio synthesis into the mix.
In simpler applications, AI powers voice assistants such as Siri on your smartphone. In more powerful products, it is the technology that powers deepfake influencers like Miquela, a virtual popular DJ.
Companies are entering this space is to capitalise on the power of predictive purchasing. The idea is that if they know how you think or can connect with you emotionally, they could help brands better pitch you a product.
As people continue to share more of themselves online, it is possible to create a reasonably accurate chatbot based primarily on people’s digital footprints, it has been discovered.
According to Casey Phillips, senior manager of AI-driven experiences at Intuit:
“We’re constantly communicating in ways that are being stored. You can take that data, run it through an AI system to predict how that person would actually respond to things.”
Bots based on personalities are just an extension of existing deepfake technology, which can create videos and photos that look like real people. Misuse of this type technology is already causing a number of negative consequences, and will continues as it becomes more indistinguishable.
Already, big-tech are looking to cash in, and this isn’t the first example of a product of this nature.
The Ministry of Alphabet (Google) has a patent for a digital clone that embodies people’s “mental attributes,” and let’s also not forget their $1.5 billion research facility that was established for the sole purpose of “solving death”:
New Zealand-based software company UneeQ is marketing “digital humans” that re-create “human interaction at infinite scale.”
Pryon, an AI company, is working on tech that replicates sentiments held by staff within an organization to enhance chatbots. The goal is to capture what employees know and create a virtual assistant that can answer questions with more accuracy.
Nectome is working on preserving the brain for memory extraction using the chemical preservative glutaraldehyde.
Another project underway at MIT, called Augmented Eternity, maps an individual based on their digital interactions and allows them to be represented as a bot.
Some AI specialists have already shown this type of product is possible on a much smaller scale.
In 2016, James Vlahos, the CEO of HereAfter, created an interactive chatbot dubbed ‘Dadbot’ that was based on his late father. That same year, Belarus-born Eugenia Kuyda digitally re-created her deceased best friend using text messages he had sent friends before dying in a car crash.
This expansion of technology is leading humanity down uncharted spiritual waters, and the end result may not be as fulfilling as the flashy marketing tells you it is. In fact, it may make many even more disconnected from an already unnatural world.
REMOVING THE HUMANITY
The idea of chatbots based on dead people raises several ethical questions.
First of all, surrounding privacy. It’s like next-level identity theft. There are also limitations. People only share so much on social media, so algorithms relying on that would be flawed.
Humans are also highly complex and influenced by experiences that aren’t always shared via text messages. Microsoft’s patent suggests the company could use crowdsourced data to fill in any gaps.
In other words, the resulting chatbot could end up saying things the person never said. While the AI is derived from a real human, it is not the same as the physical being.
“It’s hard to collect the tribal knowledge. Those little subtle things that make people unique, that’s hard to grasp,” said Igor Jablokov, CEO of Pryon.
Now, let’s think about this for a second: Anyone with the technology could also change the words and actions of a deceased person who is no longer around to refute them.
Combine both the facts that chatbots would be flawed, and could also be manipulated in a misrepresentative way just like other deepfake systems, and you can see the problems here.
It is not okay to make people believe they are talking to someone who is dead.
Humans no longer see themselves as the center of creation, rather a stepping stone for some type of posthuman. Thus, these products are naturally set to make millions, despite the spiritual and ethical impacts that are not yet understood.
Simulated reality begins to enter a hyperreality at this point.
One of the main arguments I have found in support of this notion is the fact ancient traditions, specifically Chinese as an example, often encourage continued interactions with the afterlife. For example, Chinese culture uses mediums as a way to keep in touch and help grieving.
Fair enough if this type of thing works for you, but I would argue this isn’t healthy in mass. Let alone through basic technology that can easily be purchased and no supervision or guidance given.
I’d also like to add: Let’s also not forget China was the first to submit to the cold reality of cameras on every corner, social credit normalities and other dystopian visions that are seeking to be expanded.
Call me crazy, but it seems these practices may have in fact — simply on observation — removed the humanity from these societies in question. Technology has become a part of their DNA.
We are not those cultures. Some of us still believe in the powerful qualities of life and death, the lessons and journeys both of these concepts take us on (as was ultimately intended for spiritual growth), and do not look to intertwine, alter or stop these realities with technology.
How can we appreciate life is we commodify the importance of death?
What kind of world is born when people don’t appreciate life?
I think you all know the answer to these questions.
Don’t fall for the hype of the false gods.
They may seek to control death, but their souls already died long ago.
What do you think?
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