For me, quite easily, the most traumatic experience of my life has been the death of my mom in 2002. I felt the pain for years; and I even remember shedding tears in front of my students - though they did not see this - at my university in New York as I was teaching a class almost five years after the bereavement. It was heavy for me; and even occasionally now, though of course less often, I still get emotional when I remember my mom. Unfortunately for me, no one in my nuclear family felt or could imagine the pain that I suffered from the event. I am OK now, obviously, but I still wish I could hear my mom’s voice.
This wish of mine may be answered in the near future - not for me - but for other people who lose loved ones. Yes, you’ll be able to speak with, and receive texts, from a relative or friend that has died. Creepy? May be, but I have never been afraid to see my mom in a dream, though it has not happened yet.
In fact the kind of affection I have for my late mom is precisely the sort that Eugenia Kuyda has for her soulmate, Roman Mazurenko, that made her to create a memorial bot (shorten form for “robot”) of her friend, who died in a road accident in Russia last year November just before his 33rd birthday. She says being able to talk to Roman or dead relatives helps the grieving process. The two close friends were Russians who had immigrated to the US a few years ago; settling down in San Francisco. Kuyda founded a company, Luka, which became the vehicle for the development of the app - also called Luka - that keeps the memory of dead people alive. From reading Mazurenko’s text messages, it apparently occurred to Kuyda that the messages could serve as the basis for a different kind of bot: one that imitated an individual person’s speech patterns. Aided by a rapidly developing neural network, she thought she could perhaps speak with her friend once again.
The concept is really not that complicated: it is about creating a digital profile of someone from various posts - Facebook pages, Twitter, personal emails, and so on, pass the data on to a bot who will then be able to predict how the person reacts in certain situations, including being able to answer questions or give advice. Thus, data from social networks are uploaded to the artificial intelligence (AI) algorithms. In future, Luka will be able to support photos, videos, audio, and location data from personal devices.
Note that Luka is different from Siri, Cortana, or Alexa, respectively the digital assistants for iOS, Windows, and Amazon’s platforms. In the words of Kuyda, “We’re trying to get a full psychological profile of you, so you can answer a thousand questions so we can get to understand you really, really profoundly.”
Obviously, the accuracy of the app will depend on how the AI understands your personality traits: the kinds of things you like to do, things that motivate you, or how you respond to zillions of life situations. Note that keeping diaries is great and your descendants can get some ideas about your person from your diary. However, it is different: You can’t text your dead mom’s dairy to get advice from your mom!
Clearly, Luka and similar AI tools are work in progress, even though significant achievements have been made. For example, will the AI be able to talk differently to the deceased’s wife than to their children? On a different front, it is not difficult to envision that some folks might find tools like Luka to be offensive on the grounds of the ethics - the lack of it, that is.
In other words, death is God’s creation and should be left as that. Note that no attempt is being made to replace a person in these applications; the intent is to preserve as much of the information that you generate, offering asynchronous access to it, and manipulating it to predict your actions in an infinite number of human situations. If you put text messages and other materials from a loved one into a program, you can create a chatbot that simulates the kinds of conversation you had with the person when the person was alive.
An important issue can be raised in the wake of the innovation described in this article. It highlights the importance of the digital signatures that dead people leave behind in social media servers, which in principle can be preserved for eternity by the social media company. Can the family of the dead legally claim ownership of such data? Or does the data become Facebook’s (for example) for life? Now, this part is really creepy!
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