Deadbots: The digital soul that can speak for you after your death

Edited By: Nikhil Pandey
NEW DELHI Updated: May 13, 2022, 05:11 PM(IST)

The development of a deadbot that can replicate a person's personality necessitates a large amount of personal data, such as social network data, which has been shown to indicate extremely sensitive qualities. Photograph:( Twitter )

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Virtual assistants are now a threat to home privacy; news recommenders change our understanding of the world; risk-prediction systems advise social workers on which children to safeguard from abuse; and data-driven hiring tools assess your chances of finding a job. Many people, however, are unsure about the ethics of machine learning.

Eight years after his lover died, a bereaved Canadian man utilised cutting-edge artificial intelligence software to have life-like online "chats" with her.Joshua Barbeau, 33, told the San Francisco Chronicle that he paid $5 to participate in a beta test of GPT-3, artificial intelligence software created by a research group co-founded by Elon Musk.

Barbeau said he used her past text messages and Facebook postings to create the chatbot resemble his late lover's writing voice. Barbeau lost his 23-year-old sweetheart Jessica Pereira in 2012.

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Robots that converse with dead people

Barbeau was able to exchange text messages with an artificial "Jessica" using a deadbot, a form of chatbot. Despite the case's ethically contentious character, I rarely came across materials that went beyond the facts and examined it via an explicit normative lens: why would developing a deadbot be right or wrong, ethically desirable or repugnant?

Let's put things in perspective before we tackle these issues: Jason Rohrer, a game developer, established Project December to allow people to customise chatbots with the personality they wanted to connect with, as long as they paid for it.

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The project was designed using the GPT-3 API, a text-generating language model developed by OpenAI, an artificial intelligence research firm. 

Barbeau's situation caused a schism between Rohrer and OpenAI because GPT-3 is clearly prohibited from being used for sexual, romantic, self-harm, or bullying objectives in the company's standards.

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Rohrer shut down the GPT-3 version of Project December, calling OpenAI's approach hyper-moralistic and stating that persons like Barbeau were "consenting adults."

While we may all have opinions on whether developing a machine-learning deadbot is a good idea or not, articulating the implications is far from simple. This is why it's crucial to tackle the ethical issues posed by the case one by one.

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