Microsoft patents Black Mirror-esque chatbot that can imitate dead people

The chatbot would study an individual's online profile and try to emulate how they'd communicate accordingly

Black Mirror Be Right Back

Microsoft has filed a patent for a technology that can “revive” people who are dead through a chatbot that emulates them.

Dated December 1st, 2020, the patent proposes an AI-based chatbot that compiles a profile of a person based on their past “images, voice data, social media posts, electronic messages.” The chatbot would then attempt to converse with the user just like how the person in question would have.

In theory, this could be used to let you “converse” with someone who has passed away. “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” writes Microsoft in the patent.

But it doesn’t stop there; Microsoft also suggests a visual component to accompany text-based conversations. Specifically, the company mentions a 2D or 3D model that could be created using “images and depth information, or video data” of an individual.

Interestingly, what Microsoft is suggesting seems very much inspired by the 2013 Black Mirror episode “Be Right Back.” In the episode, a young woman (Hayley Atwell) uses a service to communicate with a digital recreation of her deceased boyfriend (Domnhall Gleeson) via instant messaging. As with Microsoft’s patent, the boyfriend’s avatar was created using his online communications and social media profiles.

That said, Microsoft’s patent only pertains to a chatbot; it doesn’t take it as far as Black Mirror. Later in the episode, we actually see the boyfriend’s artificial intelligence being placed into a synthetic body so the girlfriend can have a physical relationship with it.

A more recent example of technology attempting to revive the deceased came last October when Kim Kardashian-West shared a video of a hologram of her late father purchased by her husband Kanye West.

Ultimately, as with any patent, there’s no guarantee that Microsoft will end up actually developing and releasing these particular chatbots. If it does, though, just remember: Black Mirror warned us.

Image credit: Netflix