The concept of griefbots might seem familiar to some: It was popularized in an episode of Black Mirror, “Be Right Back,” in which a pregnant woman, Martha, tries an online service for communicating with the dead after the sudden loss of her fiancé, Ash. True to form, the episode escalates and Martha’s dependency on the griefbot sees her upgrade to the android version of Ash, a Blade Runner-style replica which perfectly imitates his appearance and voice. It’s an ambitious forecast, but we edged closer to Black Mirror’s initial griefbot becoming a reality just last year, when Eugenia Kuyda created a simulation of her friend Roman Mazurenko, after he was killed in a road accident.
Ahmad has now built his own working prototype. When his father died four years ago, Ahmad lamented the fact that any future children he would have would never be able to bond with their grandfather. He drew on his previous research, which focused on modeling human behavior in video games, and spent the last few years collecting data his father had left behind, such as audio or video recordings, text messages, and transcripts of letters. This information has allowed him to create a messenger program that (he claims) can imitate his father.