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Can Chatbots Simulate Conversations with Dead People

Published by Slashdot on Sun, 10 Jan 2021

The author of the book Online Afterlives describes the unusual projects of people like Eugenia Kuyda, co-founder of Luka, an AI-powered chat simulator that books restaurant reservations and makes recommendations. Kuyda worked with computer scientists to convert several thousand text messages between deceased tech entrepreneur Roman Mazurenko and his friends and relatives into a chatbot simulation:"How are you there'" asks a friend. "I'm OK. A little down. I hope you aren't doing anything interesting without me," Roman responds. His friend replies that they all miss him. Another acquaintance asks him if God and the soul exist. Having probably indicated his atheism in chats while he was alive, he says no. "Only sadness." Not content with Luka, Eugenia also designed a chatbot called Replika. A cross between a diary and a personal assistant, Replika asks users a series of questions, eventually learning to mimic their personalities. The goal is to get closer to creating a digital avatar that would be able to reproduce us and replace us once we're dead, but also one that is able to create "friendships" with humans. Since the second half of 2017, over two million people have downloaded Replika onto their mobile devices... Luka and Replika are not the only inventions designed to give a voice to the digital ghosts of the deceased. A few years ago, James Vlahos, an American journalist who has been an AI enthusiast since childhood, created what he calls a "Dadbot." It all started on April 24, 2016, when his father John was diagnosed with lung cancer. Upon learning of his father's illness, James began recording all of their conversations with the idea of writing a commemorative book after his father's death. After 12 sessions, each an hour and a half, he found himself with 91,970 words. The printed transcripts filled around 203 pages... He decided to use the recordings of his father to create something other than a commemorative book. He remembered writing an article that discussed PullString (previously known as ToyTalk), a program designed to create conversations with fictional characters... James used PullString to reorganize the MP3 recordings of his father. He also used it to create his Dadbot, software that works on his smartphone and simulates a written conversation with John, based on the processing of almost 100,000 recorded words... The tone of the conversations reflects the personality of the deceased: "Where are you now'" asks James. "As a bot I suppose I exist somewhere on a computer server in San Francisco. "And also, I suppose, in the minds of people who chat with me."Read more of this story at Slashdot.
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