Microsoft’s New Patent, Black Mirror, and the Future of Death.

Microsoft has recently acquired the license “to make a chatbot using the personal information of deceased people.” This would grant Microsoft the liberty of creating an AI (Artificial Intelligence) “based on images, voice, data, social media posts, electronic messages, and more personal information” of the deceased. This was reported by The Independent earlier this week. 

A snapshot from the Black Mirror episode, “Be Right Back”. Via Netflix.

This innovation recalls an episode from the futuristic Netflix series, Black Mirror, created by Charlie Brooker. The episode in question (Season Two, Episode One) features the story of a young woman who has recently lost her lover to an auto accident and decides to resurrect him via AI. The young woman, played by Hayley Atwell, uploads her late boyfriend’s (played by Domnall Gleeson) videos to the AI company, she begins to communicate vocally with him, and, eventually, compelled by her discovery of a pregnancy, she has a synthetic body made and delivered to her. Microsoft’s patent has included “the notion of 2D or 3D models of specific people being generated via images and depth information, or video data”.

A parallel can be drawn between what Microsoft intends to do and what Black Mirror portrayed. The patent states that “The specific person (who the chatbot 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 character, a historical figure, a random entity etc. The specific person may also correspond to oneself (e.g, the user creating/training the bot).” The patent implies that “living users could train a digital replacement in the event of their death.” 

Hayley Atwell in “Be Right Back”. Via Netflix.

The Black Mirror “Be Right Back” closes with Hayley Atwell’s character locking her deceased boyfriend, Ash Starmer (Domhnall Gleeson) in the attic because, as close to life and replicative of her late boyfriend as the synthetic AI version is, it could never capture the absolute complexity of Ash Starmer’s person. 

After locking him away, she took her daughter to visit “her father” occasionally in the attic. One cannot help but wonder if this would be the future of the dead. And if it is, what does it mean for death/dying itself.

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