With a lit­tle help from tech­nol­ogy, peo­ple can cre­ate dig­i­tal ver­sions of them­selves who will al­ways be around.

Business Today - - CONTENTS - Il­lus­tra­tion By Raj Verma

With a lit­tle help from tech­nol­ogy, peo­ple can cre­ate dig­i­tal ver­sions of them­selves who will al­ways be around


IN VAR­I­OUS parts of the world, peo­ple are try­ing to make sure that those who are dead and gone should go on liv­ing dig­i­tally based on the data avail­able about them. Of that, there is aplenty, and tech com­pa­nies are try­ing to make use of it. Here is how it started. About three years ago, Eu­ge­nia Kuyda was dev­as­tated when her best friend Ro­man was killed in an ac­ci­dent. But she soon re­alised that all the text mes­sages she had from Ro­man would re­veal a lot about her friend and these could be used to cre­ate a chat­bot that would re­spond just like him when en­gaged in a con­ver­sa­tion. The chat­bot was de­vel­oped and Kuyda found so­lace in chat­ting with the dig­i­tal ver­sion. In time, she was able to make it more con­tent-gen­er­a­tive, which means it can en­gage in new in­ter­ac­tions not derived from the ex­ist­ing text mes­sages. Plus, it was able to rep­re­sent Ro­man’s vo­cab­u­lary and tone of voice.

The chat­bot was also shared with oth­ers, some of whom had not met Ro­man, to get a feel of the kind of per­son he was. Even­tu­ally, Kuyda and her San Fran­cisco-based com­pany Luka built Replika, an AI chat­bot that learns more about the user via daily in­ter­ac­tions and in the course of time, starts be­hav­ing like that per­son. In the be­gin­ning, one can treat it as a dig­i­tal friend, chat­ting with it when­ever she wants, telling it all about her day, dis­cussing her thoughts and re­ac­tions, and Replika will grad­u­ally de­velop an un­der­stand­ing of the user’s per­son­al­ity. One can also use it to build a dig­i­tal avatar of some­one who has passed away. Replika is cur­rently avail­able on An­droid and iOS.

Based on a sim­i­lar con­cept, the CEO of a ma­jor fi­nan­cial com­pany wants to cre­ate a dig­i­tal avatar of him­self that will act as a vir­tual con­sul­tant af­ter his death and help fu­ture em­ploy­ees work in sync with his phi­los­o­phy and meth­ods, ac­cord­ing to MIT Tech­nol­ogy Re­view. It may not be dif­fi­cult as there will be a vast amount of data avail­able from cor­re­spon­dence and other in­puts to cre­ate a dig­i­tal avatar. In fact, Hos­sein Rah­nama, a re­searcher at MIT’s Me­dia Lab, is build­ing an ap­pli­ca­tion called Aug­mented Eter­nity that will achieve just what this CEO wants. How­ever, the chal­lenge does not solely lie in repli­cat­ing what some­one could have said but in putting the words in con­text and mak­ing them mean­ing­ful. To do that, one must un­der­stand the back­ground or the back-story be­hind those words.

There is an­other is­sue. Per­son­al­ity tends to change and one be­haves dif­fer­ently with dif­fer­ent peo­ple. Rah­nama thinks this, too, can be baked into Aug­mented Eter­nity.

A per­son can also cre­ate a dig­i­tal avatar when he/she is still alive and use the same to share knowl­edge and ex­per­tise in the here and now. It could be use­ful for com­pa­nies where spe­cialised knowl­edge is cru­cial. If that hap­pens, any em­ployee can in­ter­act, for ex­am­ple, with the dig­i­tal avatar of the CEO or the Chair­man and get help with de­ci­sion-mak­ing or prob­lem-solv­ing.

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