It was recently revealed that in 2017 Microsoft patented a chatbot that, if built, would digitally resurrect the dead. Using artificial intelligence and machine learning, the proposed chatbot would bring our digital personality back to life for our family and friends to talk. When emphasizing the technology, Microsoft representatives admitted that the chatbot was “disturbingAnd that there were currently no plans to go into production.
Still, it appears that the technical tools and personal data are in place to make digital reincarnations possible. AI chatbots have already passed the “Turing test,” which means they’ve fooled other humans into believing they’re also human. Meanwhile, most people in the modern world now leave enough data to teach AI programs our conversational idiosyncrasies. Convincing digital doubles may be just around the corner.
But there is currently no law governing digital reincarnation. Your right to data privacy after your death is far from written in stone, and there is currently no way for you to refuse to be digitally resurrected. This legal ambiguity leaves the possibility for private companies to create chatbots from your data after your death.
Our research looked at the surprisingly complex legal question of what happens to your data after your death. At present, and in the absence of specific legislation, we do not know
Microsoft’s chatbot will use your email messages to create a digital reincarnation of you after your death. Such a chatbot would use machine learning to respond to text messages as you would in your lifetime. If you leave rich voice data behind, it could also be used to create your voice likeness – someone your loved ones could talk to, via a phone or a humanoid robot.
Microsoft isn’t the only company to have shown interest in the digital resurrection. AI company Eternime has built an AI-enabled chatbot that collects information – including geolocation, movement, activity, photos, and Facebook data – that allows users to create an avatar of themselves themselves to live after their death. It may only be a matter of time before families have the choice to resuscitate deceased relatives using AI technologies such as Eternime’s.
[Read: How tech is defying death and turning our loved ones into Alexa-powered chatbots]
If chatbots and holograms from beyond the grave are to become mainstream, we will need to develop new laws to govern them. After all, it looks like a violation of the right to privacy to digitally resurrect someone whose body lies under a gravestone that says “rest in peace”.
National laws are inconsistent on how your data is used after your death. In the EU, data privacy law only protects the rights of the living. This leaves Member States free to decide how to protect data from the dead. Some, such as Estonia, France, Italy and Latvia, have legislated on post-mortem data. UK data protection laws have not been.
To complicate matters further, our data is primarily controlled by private online platforms such as Facebook and Google. This control is based on the terms of service to which we agree when creating profiles on these platforms. These terms fiercely protect the privacy of the dead.
For example, in 2005, Yahoo! refused to provide the email account login details for the surviving family of a US Navy killed in Iraq. The company argued that their terms of service were designed to protect the privacy of the Navy. A judge ultimately ordered the company to provide the family with a CD containing copies of the emails, setting a legal precedent in the process.
A few initiatives, such as Google’s inactive account manager and former Facebook contact, have attempted to address the post-mortem data problem. They allow living users to make decisions about what to do with their data assets after they die, preventing nasty court battles over deceased data in the future. But these measures do not replace laws.
One path to better legislation on postmortem data is to follow the example of organ donation. The UK opt-out organ donation law is particularly relevant, as it treats the organs of the dead as donation unless that person specifies otherwise while alive. The same exclusion system could be applied to post-mortem data.
This model could help us respect the privacy of the dead and the wishes of their heirs, while considering the benefits that could come from data donations: that data donors could help save lives as donors do. organs.
In the future, private businesses could offer family members an agonizing choice: abandon your loved one to death, or instead pay to revive them digitally. Microsoft’s chatbot might be too disturbing right now, but it’s an example of what’s to come. It’s time we wrote the laws to govern this technology.
This article by Edina Harbinja, Senior Lecturer in Media and Privacy Law, Aston University; Lilian Edwards, Professor of Law, Innovation and Society, Newcastle Law School, Newcastle University, and Marisa McVey, Researcher, Aston University, is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.
Published March 2, 2021 – 11:02 UTC