Can Algorithms Recreate A Personality?

Microsoft’s has obtained a patent for a “conversational chatbot of a specific person” created from images, recordings, participation in social networks, emails, letters, etc., coupled with the possible generation of a 2D or 3D model of the person, and for some reason, it has largely been interpreted by the media as an attempt to find a way to talk to the dead.

For Microsoft, the reference to a specific person is appreciably broader, and as the patent notes, can also apply 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.”

We’ve been here before: in 2016, a Russian technologist, Eugenia Kuyda, co-founder of the artificial intelligence startup Replika and a chatbot specialist, tried to “reconstruct” her friend, the entrepreneur Roman Mazurenko, who had been killed in a hit-and-run accident, from the huge history of instant messaging conversations she had with him. Before that, a well-known episode of Black Mirror, “Be right back”, speculated on the possibility of creating robots using all the digital data that the people they were intended to replace had generated and stored throughout their lives.

The idea of a “digital ghost” of a loved one gives us the possibility of being able to ‘be’ with someone we have lost, and confronts our awareness of the loss with our desire to deny it. A chatbot of this type, capable of recreating idioms, writing styles, specific terms or even gestures, can, as in the experiment carried out by Kuyda, help with progressive acceptance of a loss that, on many occasions, comes without a warning, and can be considered as an aid to the mourning process, to the need for a gradual closure of the emptiness created, thanks to a digital avatar. The idea is to leverage the evidence we have of a digital existence that runs parallel to the biological one and that reflects our relationship with that person, and to use it to maintain an illusion of continuity.

But Microsoft’s idea is much broader, and is less a digital ouija board than an attempt to conceptualize what makes us recognizable, the features that can be captured by algorithms and that, taken together, characterize us, and to then apply them to any type of chatbot that can be trained, even by the person it is supposed to represent. As an idea, hardly patentable, I’m afraid — we’ll have to wait and see about its implementation — but definitely something we will get to interact with: digital avatars of a person — living or dead — trained with their behavior. From a business and leadership perspective, there are, undoubtedly, a huge amount of possibilities. The mind boggles.


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