The idea of using technology to converse with someone who has passed on would be considered by many an impossibility. However, a recent patent granted to Microsoft describes an invention which emulates talking to the deceased.
The patent in question (US 10 853 717) is entitled Creating a Conversational Chat Bot of a Specific Person. It relates to systems and methods of creating and interacting with a virtual chat bot that can embody a particular individual, either dead or alive.
The patent describes a method of creating a chat bot by receiving a request associated with a specific person, accessing social data for the specific person, creating a personality index using the social data, and training the chat bot using the personality index.
“Social data” can take a multitude of forms, including images, voice data, electronic messages, social media posts, written letters, and geolocation data amongst many others. This gathered data is then used to create a personality index that is tailored to the individual as much as possible, allowing the individual’s personality to emerge in conversation.
Data may be used in a variety of ways to create the personality index, such as using image and/or video data to generate a model of the specific person. 2D data used to generate a 2D model of the person could also be used to produce a 3D representation.
Voice data, such as recordings, of the individual may also be used to generate a tailored voice font for the person. The patent states that this could be achieved by establishing and using various traits of a person’s conversation, such as style, diction, tone, voice, intent, sentence length and complexity, topic, and consistency.
Mention is also made of using social data to determine behavioural attributes (e.g., user interests, opinions, etc.) and demographic information (e.g., age, gender, education, profession, income level, relationship status, etc.) of the person to create a personality index that closely matches the individual. The patent even says that such attributes of persons determined to be similar to the specific person could be used to influence the personality index of the specific person.
The personality index could then be used to train a chat bot to possess a 3D model of the specific person and to converse like them. If the user poses a question to the bot that cannot be answered using the data collected, machine learning can be employed to formulate a plausible response.
This leaves the main question being: who is Microsoft intending the specific person to be? The patent states that the person may be a past or present entity. They may be a friend, a relative, an acquaintance, a celebrity, a fictional character, a historical character, or even the user themselves. The patent even goes to the extent of stating that the person may be a deceased relative of the user.
Many have been questioning ethics surrounding the invention. Microsoft’s general manager of AI programs has too, in a Tweet, referring to the technology as “disturbing”. He also mentioned that the AI ethics reviews that are performed today were not done in the same way in 2017, when the patent was originally filed; and said that there are currently no plans for putting the invention into effect. On the other hand, there is no doubt that the creation of believable AI personalities is still a favoured goal in the AI industry, and Microsoft’s patent shows how far technology has come in this area. This technology may still be put to use, but perhaps leaving the dead to rest in peace.
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