Their new chatbot patent seems to be taken straight from the dystopian drama series...
Black Mirror has a knack for pre-empting technologies' most perverse would-be side-effects, making it a riveting drama series.
Black Mirror fans may remember the particularly disturbing episode, 'Be Right Back' where wife Martha tragically brings back her late-husband Ash (played with aplomb by Domhnall Gleeson) using AI that mimics his speech patterns, and behaviour, using data gleaned from his social media accounts and emails.
According to documents from the US Patent and Trademark Office, Microsoft has now been granted a patent that would enable the software company to develop an AI-assisted chatbot using someone's personal data including, “images, voice data, social media posts and electronic messages.” So far, so Black Mirror.
Although the filing for patent which was named 'Creating a Conversational Chat Bot of a Specific Person' doesn't specifically state it wants to do this with deceased persons in particular, it does allow more than enough room for this possibility. A statement on the patent alludes to the notion, "The specific person 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."
Many people noticed the similarity between Microsoft's offering and the episode, taking to Twitter to voice their opinions:
Digitally resurrecting the dead is nothing new, you may remember Kanye West's gift to wife (unless the rumour mill is true and they've divorced now) Kim Kardashian where he presented her with a hologram of her late father Robert Kardashian. West used archive digital footage to mimic Robert's voice pattern, so the hologram could then be programmed to say, "Kanye west is the most, most, most, most, most genius man in the whole world." Likewise, Tupac, Amy Winehouse and Ronald Reagan have been re-incarnated in digital form for live performances and museum exhibitions.
So could this technology be useful? If you watched the series (plot spoiler) you will remember that the main character quickly realises that the digital version of her husband only offered a "glimmer" of his personality... but maybe a glimmer is all a person in mourning needs.
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