Bioethics News

Bringing Back the Dead via Chatbot: Some Concerns

By: Ashwini Nagappan

If given the opportunity to talk to a deceased loved one, would you take it?

Technology has advanced from Amazon’s Alexa and Apple’s Siri to personalized “chatbots,” a digital reflection of one’s self. Hossein Rahnama, a visiting scholar at MIT’s Media Lab, remarked that an individual needs about 1 trillion gigabytes of personal data to create a respective chatbot, which millennials will have acquired by approximately 2070. Therefore, after death, people can have a digital version of themselves still engaging with those alive. As the digital afterlife materializes, concepts of bereavement and death need refining.

People may turn to a chatbot to talk to a dead “person” rather than mourning, which alters the distinction between life and death. Instead of both human organism and “person” dying, the human organism dies, but the “person” stays alive, the “person” defined as being able to retain consciousness. Machine learning allows the chatbot to predict how the dead individual would have reacted to current events by analyzing their opinions made when alive. While this artificial intelligence (AI) stems from a real person, it is not the same as the physical being that once existed.

The article references an episode of the TV show, Black Mirror, which captures an android’s inability to match the habits and mannerisms essential to its believability. A concern to ponder over is whether we are the same via technology as we are face-to-face. Rahnama’s AI program gathers information from Facebook posts, tweets, snapchats, texts, and more, but many people use these social media platforms to put their ideal self forward.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.