Vertigo of the “chatbot” inspired by our deceased relatives

Microsoft filed in January 2021 the patent for a “chatbot” which allows us to communicate with our deceased relatives. A chatbot is a computer system that has learned to communicate with a user in writing or orally. This system integrates a large number of artificial intelligence (AI), language recognition and interpretation modules. It is often embedded on a platform (smartphone, pregnant or social robot, capable of interacting with humans).

This is no longer an episode of the dystopian series, Black Mirror: AI learns a digital version of the deceased from the personal data of the deceased. An American journalist passionate about AI also managed to create a “dadbot” from the memory recordings he had of his father. He exchanges with this chatbot, as if it were him. And in fact, in a few years, you might be accompanied by a robot, in the face of a deceased loved one, able to interact with his voice.

Ethical reflection made difficult

Digital techniques, information processing and AI are transforming our societies in depth, disrupting our relationships with information, knowledge, truth, space, training, work but also to private life, to memory and to others. Thanks to the power of the machines and the available data, the performance of the systems is increasing. However, ethical reflection on digital technology is made difficult by the impossibility of anticipating all the applications of a technology which is constantly reinventing itself and by the multitude of its uses.

Several points are however essential to maintain free will and autonomy vis-à-vis the machine: the protection of personal data, tests on discrimination bias and non-manipulation. In these respects, it is crucial that digital ethics be a multidisciplinary reflection on “human-machine coevolution”. In other words, on our behavior in front of digital objects and on the implications that these objects have on our behavior, in particular when they detect our emotions and are able to simulate empathy.

Is it problematic to make the dead speak?

To take the example of the chatbot which would allow communication with the deceased, dizzying questions arise. Is it problematic to make the dead speak? Is there a violation of the principle of respect for the dignity of the human person? Will this change our behavior? Will we always want to revive the voices of our loved ones’ past?

It is urgent to raise awareness of the consequences and ethical issues of the deployment of digital technologies and AI in our daily lives. These reflections must be nourished by a long-term analysis to influence our choices in society. We will understand the possibilities of artificial intelligence and new perspectives on the future through education, experimentation and discussion. Let us not neglect the consequences of these technological choices, as we have tended to do, unfortunately, in terms of ecology.


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