Sci-fi becomes reality as humans live on as chatbots – just like Black Mirror

Science fiction is set to become reality as experts predict humans could live on through AI chatbots – just like an episode of Charlie Brooker’s dystopian drama Black Mirror.

Eight years ago, the bleak Channel 4 show told the story of a happy couple who were torn apart when the male lead, played by Domhall Gleeson, but his partner soon learned of a controversial technology.

It allowed for Domhall’s character to come back to life by mimicking his conversational tone in an online chat service, but soon things went awry for the female character, played by Hayley Atwell.

And now, technology experts believe that the service will become a reality – and Microsoft have even been granted a patent that allows them to “make a chatbot using the personal information of deceased people”.

As described in the patent, Microsoft will use “images, voice data, social media posts, electronic message, and more personal information” of the subject to create a realistic representation of their personality.

As reported in IndieWire, the patent goes on to say: “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. The specific person may also correspond to oneself (e.g., the user creating/training the chat bot).”

Developers believe digital bots will become more lifelike with advances in artificial intelligence, and personalised bots are already being sold to people who want to leave a legacy.

The Daily Star reports that website Hereafter AI – which allows people to record their life stories for posterity – a woman called Rose writes: “My family will always have the ability for me to answer their questions so that my memories can last forever.”

Californian company Replika offers users a digital companion that steadily learns how to mimic them, compared to the usual way, where chatbots are created with as broad a persona as possible.

But it was also possible to train one “to converse in the personality of a specific person,” the company said while stressing it had no plans to use the patent.

David Burden, of UK-based AI company Daden said bots are trained to take on a personality using the person’s speech, writing, emails, and text messages.

“We embed it into a thing called a knowledge graph. Everything they mention is a node on that graph,” he said.

David said he could imagine the technology being used to send replica astronauts to distant stars or by tycoons keen to maintain control of their empires after their deaths.

“If Elon Musk or someone like that puts money into it they could probably get there sooner,” he added.