Microsoft’s New Invention Could Turn Dead Or Fictional People Into AI Chatbots

Microsoft has been granted a brand new patent that would allow them to make chatbots using the personal social information of people who have died.

A patent is essentially dibs on the design and the design process of a new invention. Their purpose is to protect inventions in a similar way to how copyright protects written ideas.

According to the published patent, the bots to be created will base their personalities on “social data.” Social data includes, “images, voice data, social media posts, electronic messages, written letters, etc.”

The patent also specifically addresses who these bots will potentially be. More specifically, it states the patent is for the concept of chat bots that are representative of specific people.

It says, “The specific person [who the chat bot represents] may correspond to a past or present entity (or a version thereof), such as a friend, a relative, an acquaintance, a celebrity, a fictional character, a historical figure, a random entity etc.”

Some outlets have reported on the technological morbidity of such an invention. Indiewire likened the invention concept to the ‘Be Right Back’ episode of Black Mirror. In the episode, a woman creates an AI clone of her recently deceased husband. The AI husband’s personality is based on his old social media accounts.

The potential to digitally resurrect lost loved ones notwithstanding, I personally think it would be rather nifty to jump online and chat with my favourite fictional characters. Or even historical figures.

Imagine sending memes to infamously missing Prime Minister, Harold Holt? Or maybe even a joke mental health chat line where the psychiatrist you speak to is Hannibal Lector? Or perhaps you need a recommendation for what book to read so you shoot a quick text to Elizabeth Bennet of Pride and Prejudice fame?

The potential for sexting historical figures aside, there are some genuine privacy questions accompanying this patent’s introduction. Will people’s data be collected to create bots without their consent? Will there be rules about who can and can’t be resurrected as a bot? i.e. Jack the Ripper, Hitler, etc. What, at the end of the day, will this innovation be in service of?

I suppose we will have to live and learn. Especially since Microsoft clearly didn’t learn from the Black Mirror episode.

Merryana Salem is a proud Wonnarua and Lebanese–Australian critic, teacher, researcher and podcaster on most social media as @akajustmerry. If you want, check out her podcast, GayV Club where she gushes about LGBT rep in media with her best friend. Either way, she hopes you ate something nice today.

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