Life after death as a chatbot, ethical dilemmas

Will there be life after death after all? Microsoft has applied for a patent on the idea of an afterlife as a chatbot.

The two protagonists. Is a life after death as a chatbot ethically acceptable? Source: (Fair Use)

In the episode Be Right Back from the dystopian Netflix series Black Mirror, exactly this idea emerges. A woman's dead boyfriend is digitally “brought to life” again. By using her memories of him, and the photos and conversations left behind, to fabricate a realistic look-alike robot of her ex. Of course, in Black Mirror style, this also ends badly.

Brought back to life using an algorithm

In its patent [1], Microsoft focuses on an initially, more modest goal. A chatbot, fed with all the knowledge and memories of the deceased. The idea is not new. Two years after the broadcast of the first episode of Black Mirror, a number of Russians worked on the development of a chatbot to bring their friend who was killed in a collision back to life. [2]

Is an afterlife ethical as a chatbot?

As is often the case with artificial intelligence, ethical issues come into play here too. To begin with, is it ethical to use private conversations of a deceased person as a grief counseling? Are you not violating that person? And in the slightly more distant future, as artificial intelligence keeps getting better, is there still a distinction between a chatbot and a real person? Is it murder to delete the chatbot? And how ethical is it to give a survivor false hope? To make her or him like something that is nothing more than a computer program? Or are we no more than a computer program?

And the question that burns us all on the lips: is Microsoft Windows' infamous Blue Screen of Death getting a second meaning? Because Microsoft is known for its abundant production of vaporware. Questions and more questions.

1. Creating a Conversational Chat Bot Of A Specific Person, US Patent Office, 2020
2. Speak, Memory - Casey Newton in The Verge, 2015
3. After You Die, Microsoft Wants to Resurrect You as a Chatbot, Popular Mechanics, 2021

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