How close are we to a digital afterlife?

When Roman Mazurenko was struck down by a car and killed just before his 33rd birthday, his “soulmate” Eugenia Kuyda memorialised him as a chatbot. She asked his friends and family to share his old text messages and fed them into a neural network built by developers at her artificial intelligence startup, Replika.

“I didn’t expect it to be as impactful. Usually I find showing emotions and thinking about grief really hard so I was mostly trying to avoid it. Talking to Roman’s avatar was facing those demons,” she told the Guardian.

Kuyda discovered that talking to the chatbot allowed her to be more open and honest. She would head home after a party, open the app and tell him things she wouldn’t tell her friends. “Even things I wouldn’t have told him when he was alive,” she said.

The chatbot, documented in great detail by the Verge, might be a crude digital resurrection, but it highlights an emerging interest in the digital afterlife, and how technology such as artificial intelligence and brain-computer interfaces could one day be used to create digital replicas of ourselves or loved ones that could live on after death.

It’s a topic that Black Mirror returns to repeatedly, extrapolating from current technologies into characteristically dystopian scenarios where our brains can be read, uploaded to the cloud and resurrected digitally as avatars or robots.

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