Microsoft files the patent for a chatbot simulating a conversation with a deceased loved one




Can we artificially revive the dead? Without going that far, however, Microsoft seems to be considering the development of software worthy of a work of science fiction. Late last year, the American company obtained a patent for a chatbot that would use a person's personal data to mimic their behavior.

In the Be right back episode of the Black Mirror series, a young woman, bereaved by the disappearance of her spouse, calls on an experimental online service. The latter makes it possible to use various data concerning a deceased person (photos, videos, social networks…) in order to create a chatbot capable of simulating a discussion with the deceased.

After watching the episode, we may be tempted to wonder: how would we react if we could have access to such a service? Microsoft could soon help us answer this question.



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Originally, personal data found online

In December 2020, the company filed for a patent whose subject matter closely resembles the service mentioned above. It relates in fact to 'the creation of a conversational chatbot of a specific person'. Specifically, the software would reproduce an individual's characteristic words and tone, relying on personal information such as 'pictures, voice data, social media messages, email messages'.

Regarding the model of the program, the patent specifies that it can be a 'past or present person', without restriction. It can therefore concern a loved one, a friend, a celebrity, a historical or fictional character, etc. Users would even have the option of creating some sort of digital version of themselves that could be used upon their death.



The weight of words, the shock of videos?

And Microsoft's projection would not end there. The company also says it could generate 2D or 3D models of the person, based on images, videos and other deeper data.

In the episode of Black Mirror (we do not recommend reading this paragraph if you want to avoid spoilers), the young woman goes further in the experience. She thus begins to maintain a telephone correspondence with the digital duplicate of her deceased companion, whose voice is faithfully imitated, before receiving a humanoid robot in kit, of a perfect resemblance. Are these the next avenues explored by Microsoft?



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What do we think of dodsee?

It is important not to get too carried away when reading such information. Firstly, because the filing of a patent does not necessarily mean that the service in question will one day be developed. The document may simply be part of a more comprehensive intellectual property policy.

Furthermore, machines still have a long way to go before they fully understand human language. Today's virtual assistants, such as Alexa or Siri, regularly prove to us that the technology is not yet fully developed. Furthermore, understanding is only part of the vast field of NLP (Natural Language Processing). Thus, the NLG (Natural Language Generation), which should allow machines to formulate their own sentences independently, today seems far from complete.

And even if such a chatbot could be designed, would that be really desirable? Technology would inevitably come with ethical questions and could cause unrest in the bereaved. As some works of science fiction remind us, like Black Mirror ...

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