Could AI keep people "alive" after death?

Numerous startups are already anticipating growing demand for digital personas, including Replika, an app that learns to replicate a person in the form of a chatbot, and HereAfter AI, which records people’s life stories and uses them to create a replica embedded in a smart speaker.

Even Big Tech seems to acknowledge the potential: Microsoft Corp. recently patented a method of using chatbots to preserve historical figures and living people. A Microsoft spokeswoman says there is no plan to use it.

Digital personas take many forms, from chatbots to animatronic robots to moving projections that gesture and speak like the real thing. AI is usually central to building and training them to interact with people. Already, hologram-like projections of dead musical artists, including Roy Orbison and Tupac Shakur, have performed on stage.

In the Microsoft patent, two of the company’s inventors, Dustin Abramson and Joseph Johnson, describe a conversational chatbot that uses data from social media, voice recordings and writings “to train a chat bot to converse and interact in the personality of the specific person.”