The old saying goes, “only two things in life are certain: death and taxes.” But with the development of digital “surrogates” using realistic chatbots, death as we know it might be coming into question sooner than we think. As reported by Quartz, we are almost at the point where it would be possible to recreate someone’s personality using their digital footprint.
Due to the exponential advancements in artificial intelligence, it is now in the realm of possibilities to recreate someone’s entire being. Millennials will eventually stockpile zetabytes (trillions of gigabytes) of data on themselves, and that will be enough for a chatbot to convincingly recreate their personality. Although this is not expected to be in the mainstream for at least five years, the world will need to start grappling with the ethical issues involved soon.
In mid-2016 a story was published discussing Eugenia Kudya and her company’s efforts to recreate the personality of her recently deceased friend, Roman. The original purpose was to make a private chatbot that could respond when Kudya was missing Roman, but it has evolved to the point where it was able to capture his wit and charm in a manner convincing to Roman’s own mother.
There are two big issues with using chatbots to create surrogates of the dead: the interruption of the grieving process, and the ethics of using all of someone’s personal data. Think about it this way – if you could speak with the dead, would that be good or bad for your long-time emotional stability. In a lot of ways, life is about learning to accept death and move on, not talk to a counterfeit version of your lost loved one. This isn’t to say that a digital surrogate is good or bad, just that we have no idea of the ramifications of putting off the grieving process by continuing to feel that person’s presence.
Privacy has become a trending technology issue in the world, and the concept of chatbot surrogates faces it in new ways. At the point where a zetabyte of data has been accumulated, how much of that should be shared with the public. In death it might be necessary to specify with whom your surrogate (and data, by extension) is accessible by.
The end result could be one of two things: we could either have a change in how we process death as we know it, or we could have what amounts to high-tech eulogy; enough to remind us of what we lost, but not enough to replace them.