Microsoft Goes Full ‘Black Mirror’ with New Patent to Turn Deceased People into AI Chatbots

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A recent patent granted to Microsoft has many “Black Mirror” fans thinking of “Be Right Back,” the first episode of the show’s second season. In that “Black Mirror” installment, Hayley Atwell plays a young woman whose boyfriend, Ash Starmer (Domhnall Gleeson), is killed in a car accident. The woman decides to use technology to resurrect her dead boyfriend as artificial intelligence so she can continue communicating with him.

As reported by The Independent this week, Microsoft has been granted a patent that allows the company “to make a chatbot using the personal information of deceased people.” Under the patent, Microsoft can create an artificial intelligence bot “based on images, voice data, social media posts, electronic message, and more personal information” of a deceased person.

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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).”

The latter point implies “that living users could train a digital replacement in the event of their death.”

In the “Black Mirror” episode, Atwood’s character Martha begins communing with the AI version of her dead boyfriend Ash through an instant messaging chatbot system that artificially resurrects him by using his past online communications and social media profiles. After Martha uploads videos of Ash to the service, the technology allows her to start calling him and hearing his artificial voice over the phone. Martha eventually uses a synthetic android to create a robotic recreation of Ash. The episode ends with Martha keeping the Ash android in her attic so that her child can communicate with her father on weekends.

Since airing “Be Right Back,” “Black Mirror” would return for three additional seasons and a movie on Netflix. Series creator Charlie Brooker has not announced plans for a potential sixth season of the show. The “Black Mirror” team’s most recent project was the Netflix comedy special “Death to 2020,” which debuted on the streaming platform at the end of last year.

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