I’m conducting an interview.
Which isn’t too unusual, until I answer my own question.
OK fineI think – I am a professionaltake another approach.
What do I remember from my childhood?
With that, I recount to myself one of my earliest childhood memories, about stern-looking armed deputies and armored vehicles in West Point parking lots at the start of the Gulf War, and my brief history has sparked other memories. I remembered the gothic military skies and buildings, the color of cadet blankets and greatcoats, being so small in something that seemed so big.
It’s the kind of moment – this innervation, this resurrection of a lost time past – that creators aspiring to build our future digital twins are heading towards.
Granted, they’re more about giving you that moment from a deceased person — or vice versa.
Although approaches to personal digital twins vary, the general idea is that someone can “live” forever, thanks to AI.
“Today (my daughter) is talking to Siri. But someday in the future, I want her to talk to me,” Emil Jimenez, the founder of Mind Bank AI, told me when I started making reports on AI digital twins.
Mind Bank’s vision of a digital twin is about as ambitious as it gets: a “you” powered by deep learning, able not only to share previously gathered information, but to use whatever it is. learned to have New conversations, reply New questions, giving advice and reacting to new situations – to continue like you, breaking (or at least bending) the chain of loss.
It’s a long way off, though; the digital self I’m talking to right now is unable to say anything that I haven’t recorded before. Even though I ask myself questions that I then answer, I still feel like I’m living in a futurist’s dream.
I talk to my HereAfter AI “Legacy Avatar”, basically an archive of myself that can be interacted with as if you were talking to Siri or Alexa.
The Legacy Avatars were inspired by founder James Vlahos’ experience with his father. As he recounted in WIRED, When his father was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer, Vlahos rushed to record whatever he could. He used the resulting oral records to create “Dadbot”, a form of “artificial immortality” for his father.
“It all started with my own personal Dadbot project, to record and share my dad’s stories using conversational AI,” Vlahos tells me.
HereAfter AI works on a similar principle, taking records of your memories, thoughts, feelings, and philosophies, and using AI to retrieve your responses in a conversational format.
Originally, interviews were conducted by reporters HereAfter AI had trained to be lifelong investigators. With the rollout of their initial commercial version, that human interviewer was replaced with a chat interface, which taps into a wide range of random questions to provide prompts.
Your memories, thoughts, feelings and philosophies are retrieved by the AI in a conversational format – your Legacy Avatar.
“We really had to refine this process,” says Vlahos. “How do you organize it?” How do you get people to focus? What can you do to maximize the chances of getting good, relatively compact stories that other people want to hear? »
The app takes what HereAfter AI has learned about this process through human interviewers and automates it.
Your Legacy Avatar is designed to retrieve these records. If you’re asked a question about your favorite college course, for example, the AI has a labeling element right off the bat, Vlahos says: it knows that if someone asks a question about college, that answer can be appropriate.
“A lot of these questions will have multiple labels associated with them,” Vlahos says.
The tagging system means you don’t have to ask the Legacy avatar the exact question used as a prompt for an answer; the stories are marked with several labels relating to the content of the recording. NLU (natural language understanding) algorithms and machine learning AIs then use the labels to extract appropriate responses.
The goal is a Legacy Avatar that’s more dynamic than, say, recorded voicemail, and more user-friendly — and soothing — than a bulky archive of raw recordings.
Talk to the Beyond
Speaking of raw recordings, I’m sitting in my covered office, a lit autumnal candle and steaming Darjeeling tea, and having a harder time responding to HereAfter AI prompts than expected.
I’m usually not afraid to share parts of myself, but I have a little trouble constantly switching between prompts. Some are just not applicable, like when it asks me about my son, and I can tell the app that those prompts don’t mean anything right now. Others are surprisingly painful; maybe if I seriously build my Legacy Avatar for realI wouldn’t mind recounting a time when I had to say goodbye.
Presented as a text-based conversation, the app delivers prompts and words of encouragement in a serious and flawless manner. “Excellent. Glad you recorded this,” my faceless, speechless interviewer told me. “I guess your family will enjoy these stories.”
Between me telling the app about a night when I was at my best – the answer implies a ‘fur’ coat – things I admire about my parents, my early childhood memories and my uncle, I record tracks dialog boxes that perform a dual function, both helping the AI understand how I speak and providing the predefined responses for the interface, as if my Legacy Avatar isn’t picking up what’s being asked of it, or hasn’t yet Answer.
(After saving them, the application is both grateful and apologizing, C-3PO style, acknowledging that it may seem weird or unnecessary. Personally, those were my favorite parts, pretending to be a voice actor; think of it like putting on your H. Jon Benjamin!)
Eventually I find myself slipping into some sort of slightly uncomfortable situation. face-to-face. I share an inflection point, when a best friend gave me such profound advice that I split my life into before and after, and I choke. I tell myself just one moreeven as the room darkens and my after-work bowl calls to me.
The process serves as a time to reflect, not just to remember.
The sting and the spark
“I don’t think this type of technology has the ability to erase the sting of death or necessarily soften the sting of death,” Vlahos says.
“I still really, really miss my dad.”
But a person isn’t the only thing you lose; memories can fade, a second defeat that slowly unfolds. It’s this softening that legacy avatars are supposed to help fix. Being able to hear his father’s voice on command, hearing him tell a joke or sing a song, share his love story – it brings the memories back to center stage.
“I guess I separate the two things,” Vlahos says. Can it ease the pain of death? Probably not – and no technological solution may ever exist, or should ever exist, I think, to ease this pain.
But can it provide a richer way to remember? Yes, believes Vlahos.
“This part of the grieving process” – the inevitable erasure of memory – “no longer has to be a given”.
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