back to article Ghosts in the machine learning pipeline will be impossible to exorcise

Tech rarely touches the soul. It enrages when social media pours petrol on hotheads. It inspires when Hubble comes back to life and delivers more cosmic awe. It pays our bills when we work in it, and it empties our pockets when we drunk-eBay that vintage console game collection. But when it brings back a dead lover? That's no …

  1. Hubert Cumberdale Silver badge

    It seems we've come a long way from Dr. Sbaitso.

    1. jake Silver badge

      Dr. Sbaitso.was pretty much the same thing as ELIZA, with a text to speech routine grafted on.

      These modern toys are the same thing, just with faster processors and more memory.

  2. amanfromMars 1 Silver badge

    For Whenever Taking a Walk on the WWWild Side of Life .......

    A new kind of immortality is now within reach, and if the history of our culture is anything to go by, we will find the temptation irresistible. .... Rupert Goodwins

    Be fully prepared to accept that irresistible temptation has already comprehensively successfully captured the hearts and minds and provided all the necessary tools and vital virile ingredients for sublime and supremely engaging applications of the phenomenon ...... and against which there is no known possibility of real physical defence or practical virtual attack.

    Successfully comprehensively captured the hearts and minds of whom and/or what is the gazillion dollar money shot question one always will find is safest best left securely unanswered ..... for some knowledge is deadly dangerous to know and share unwisely.

    1. pip25

      Re: For Whenever Taking a Walk on the WWWild Side of Life .......

      I get it, I get it!

      This is an AI-written post, right?

      1. Robert Carnegie Silver badge

        Re: For Whenever Taking a Walk on the WWWild Side of Life .......

        "amanfromMars" always writes nearly meaningful gibberish. With this he steals processing time from your irreplaceable life, as you foolishly try to find sense in his output.

        I suspect that some of the other people I meet in chat contexts had a similar motive, and died some time ago leaving their respective automatic provocation programs running.

    2. EarthDog

      Re: For Whenever Taking a Walk on the WWWild Side of Life .......

      Upvote this post. If you downvote it you will be teaching to become better. (And that is how you break algorithms and training).

  3. jake Silver badge

    It's not imortality.

    It's a mere echo.

    For further reading, may I suggest the Greek myth of the same name?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: It's not imortality.

      Agree. Real dictators would not be happy to be "virtual", that won't satisfy their egos. And knowing that they are not in control wouldn't help -- any power outage will cut them from their loving subjects.

      Also being virtual won't let them grab any pu.... never mind.

      1. nautica
        Big Brother

        Re: It's not imortality.

        Got any particular wanna-be dictator in mind? No matter how brain-dead and sociopathic?

        1. jake Silver badge

          Re: It's not imortality.

          I would imagine that "all of them" would be one acceptable answer.

    2. Fruit and Nutcase Silver badge

      Re: It's not imortality.

      "Bezos was this month reported to be a significant investor in Altos Labs, an age-reversal firm which is on the scientific quest for immortality."

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        @Fruit and Nutcase - Re: It's not imortality.

        Yeah, he'd wish that!

        As they use to say in the land where I was born, no matter how much wealth you managed to amass there will come a day when you must leave it all here and go. Feet first.

        1. Mike 16 Silver badge

          Re: @Fruit and Nutcase - It's not imortality.

          Or as my grandmother would say

          "Did you see an armored car following the hearse?"

  4. nematoad Silver badge

    Food for thought.


    Thank you for a thoughtful and thought provoking piece on a subject that had slipped under my mental radar.

    Uses of AI to recreate a person who we have lost is as you say an almost irresistible temptation and like many things, like fire, can be two-edged.

    Both good and bad will come of this and I feel that not only the AI community should get a grip on the potential problems but the whole of society. One way would be through legislation but I have doubts if politicians are properly equipped to deal with it. Maybe some sort of commission or inquiry would help, that way we could gather the thoughts of everyone. All of us will be affected by this and it is only right that everyone is consulted and it is not left to vested interests to twist any controls on the technique to their private advantage.

    Speaking for myself I would love to have been in a position to re-connect, however ephemerally, with people I have lost and I can see that handled in the right way and with sensitivity may well prove to be of great help to many people

    1. Corporate Scum

      Moving on.

      Yeah, there are some grim ethical dimensions to this that make me feel that the realized version of this idea may not be very good for people.

      That said, when faced by the sudden and irrevocable loss of a loved one, I could see how a person could find a measure of solace from an avatar of the person helping them to move on. That last point is pretty important. Most of the portrayals of this idea point out the many ways it goes wrong though.

      I fear that we are more likely to suffer things like the chatbot in the last season of Westworld, with models architected to manipulate, and to string their user along into dependency. Worse, very little in our legal system would prevent the operator of one of these systems from trying to convince the target that the person was still alive.

  5. Greybearded old scrote Silver badge


    Bjornbot? Agnetha's bot surely. (Rear of the Year 1975, for those not as grey as me.)

    1. jake Silver badge

      Re: Abbatar

      The original was boring, derivative, and repetitive enough ... who on earth would want to try to recreate it? Gluttons for punishment?

      1. Greybearded old scrote Silver badge

        Re: Abbatar

        I don't think you quite got which part of their act I was referring to.

        1. jake Silver badge

          Re: Abbatar

          I'm fairly sure I did.

      2. Psmo

        Re: Abbatar

        Glutes, Shirley?

        1. jake Silver badge

          Re: Abbatar

          Your sense of the absurd stands you well, Have a beer.

          Are you a butcher, by chance?

          Look up "peeled, side muscle on" if the above question confuses.

  6. Pascal Monett Silver badge

    "You can't copyright, trademark or patent a real-life personality"

    Indeed, you can't.

    You should not, however, create a fiction based on the data of the dead.

    I understand that people have trouble letting go. I understand that very well. That's the reason all those spiritism charlatans make their money.

    But you have to face the fact : your loved one is dead. It's harsh, it's unforgiving, but it's a fact.

    Entertaining yourself with a fac-simile is nothing but soul porn.

    Deal with it. Your life is finite, just as their's was. Live your life, don't live in the past.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Entertaining yourself with a fac-simile


      Assuming I have the time, I not infrequently spend hours every week driving imaginary cars around a facsimile world, whilst pretending I can win races. I find it quite relaxing, especially the Australia one because I used to live there, and because there isn't one set in NZ, which would be better.

      If I was, for example, to spend the same time talking to a facsimile of a lost relative, why would that be worse? Both are, objectively, a total waste of time that could be better spent, er, reading stories (most likely about imaginary people in variously rendered facsimiles of the world or some derivative thereof), watching TV dramas or films (ditto). Or I might spend hours a week at worship in a building dedicated to a most-likely imaginary supreme being (or beings) of some kind. I could apparently even buy some dubious looking "dating sim" games; as Steam seems to want me to "discover". I might spend hours listening to made up stuff in poems, or music lyrics.

      All fake, all virtual, all imaginary.

      Humans tend to spend a lot of time doing virtual things, and almost all of them are really not the worse for it. So quite why the possibility of a virtual grandad (or whatever) gets everyone in a froth is beyond me.

      Sure, just like with many things, those few who get lost in the imaginary will probably need some help. But this isn't a new or very interesting problem; it's just people losing their way. And, I hazard to guess, being dependent on talking to a simulated friend is way less toxic than (e.g.) gambling addicts who think they just need - or will get - just one more decent "win", or for serious drug/alcohol users who think it seems to help them cope.

      I'm don't think I would want a simulated relative, but I'm not going to tell other people what they should want.

      Although perhaps it might be amusing to generate a simulated me, so that I can imagine haunting the internet after I'm gone. I'd have to train it to pretend to drive facsimile cars in an imaginary antipodes, though.:-)

    2. Chris G Silver badge

      Re: "You can't copyright, trademark or patent a real-life personality"

      Re this title; So far it has not been done, only because a sufficiently powerful and wealthy entity hasn't yet tried.

      I can easily imagine a number of egos who are currently and allegedly alive wishing to continue their influence from beyond the veil.

      Attaining some kind of legal recognition of their 'personality' in a program would be the beginning, if the program could pass a Turing test, someone, somewhere will try to get it the legal status comparable to a corporation.

      Can you imagine Feacbook being run by a Zuckerbot for eternity?

      There, is one of the biggest threats to the world from AI, giving it ghost with legal rights.

  7. Paul Cooper

    I was bereaved earlier this year; my wife died very suddenly and unexpectedly.

    I have ample material from online chats conducted while we were courting and engaged (we lived on opposite sides of the world, so all our conversations were electronic). Her Facebook profile would provide ample material to bring it up to date. In other words, I am in a position to do exactly what Joseph did, given the skills (which I don't have).

    However, I am not even slightly tempted. It was my wife's intelligence and sometimes quirky response to things that made her what she was. It was doing things with her, sharing common interests, that made our life together. It was helping her cook her favourite Chinese dishes - the list goes on and on.

    An AI avatar might perhaps fool me for a few minutes, but even if it got everything right, it still wouldn't fool me for long. How does an AI handle the idiosyncratic English of a person for whom it isn't their first language? What about all the private things that never came anywhere near an electronic interface?

    All I'd end up with would be a sort of Barbie-doll version of my late wife. Better to accept that she is gone, move on and see what lies around the corner - as she would have wanted me to.

    1. Denarius Silver badge

      Paul, agree with your assessment. ITIRC it was GK Chesterton who said that "a man looks to someone addressing him hoping to hear the unexpected" or words to that effect. That is exactly what you pointed out. Otherwise one indeed has a mere replay or worse, another twatter chatroom. Condolences on your loss

    2. Coastal cutie

      Paul, I'm so sorry for your loss. My partner died suddenly 5 years ago and I was going to post something similar about how this idea makes me feel but your thoughts sum this up so perfectly there's nothing to add. I'd upvote you more than once if I could.

  8. Neil Barnes Silver badge

    It may be time to change my will

    To ensure that if any of my relatives decide to engage in this kind of behaviour, they don't get to inherit.

    Ideally, I'd like a legally binding way to prevent anyone using my digital legacy (though my footprint is as small as I can reasonably make it - the majority of my online posting is here!).

    While appreciating the feelings of the bereaved, I would not want them to think that anything cobbled together from my previous ranting and raving in any way represents my opinion on, well, anything - particularly after my death.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: anything cobbled together from my previous ranting and raving

      Of course your relatives already have an internal model of you, probably including any ranting and raving you might have done in their presence (or reported to them in conversation), in their heads already. As does, to a very small degree, any attentive reader of your thoughtful and intelligent posts here.

      So you've already lost the battle against idiosyncratic, dubiously constructed, and partial renderings of yourself, as have we all. What's one more?

  9. Mike 137 Silver badge

    developing AI ethics

    OpenAI knows this, which is why they and anyone else with half a sense of foreboding are so hot on developing AI ethics"

    AI ethics are at best a misnomer. The best that can be done is to implement an inevitably rule based system based on the ethics of the AI programmer and/or trainer (which is of course an arbitrary set of ethics, not one spontaneously developed by the machine as humans do).

    In the conclusions to In AI We Trust: Ethics, Artificial Intelligence, and Reliability published last year, author Mark Ryan states "One can rely on another based on dependable habits, but placing a trust in someone requires they act out of goodwill towards the trustor. This is the main reason why human-made objects, such as AI, can be reliable, but not trustworthy, according to the affective account.", making the important distinction between reliability and trustworthiness.

    It turns out that there's a cluster of human talents that are inherently missing from anything that ultimately runs on a Turing machine.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      @Mike 137 - Re: developing AI ethics

      Ethics ? Yeah, we've heard of it. Now please step aside while we're making money.

  10. katrinab Silver badge

    The "AI" output described here is based on the conversation scripts of the two parties, and they own the copyright on them. For the lady who died, the copyright passes on to another person in the same way as all her other assets. This is all well established law.

    These scripts are essentially the source code for the program, and the AI thingy is essentially the compiler that turns it into computer-readable code.

  11. msobkow Bronze badge

    What I find more disturbing is the number of "relationship simulators" that pop up on Steam. If these "simulators" start applying such technology and harvesting "personalities" from the web's public data, things are going to get *real* creepy *real* fast...

    1. Roland6 Silver badge

      shouldn't be too worried about the simulators until the advertisers and porn merchants get hold of them. Expect at some time in the future to start receiving advertising and/or calls from a 'friend'...

      1. jake Silver badge

        "Expect at some time in the future to start receiving advertising and/or calls from a 'friend'..."

        I've been getting those for years ... Scam telephone calls claiming to be a friend or relative using the same generic phrasing that so-called "fortune tellers" use. And yes, these days they are usually bots.

  12. Iain

    Charlie Brooker was 8 years ahead...

    1. Paul Kinsler Silver badge

      years ahead...

      Various sorts fictional technological "life-after-death" notions have been around, and been explored, longer than that; Phillip K Dick had it in some of his stories, and I see no reason to believe there weren't others.

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    No news is good news

    Beam me up Scotty!

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