Months ago, Wired published an article talking about a son's race to give his dying father artificial immortality. How did he achieve that? Using artificial intelligence, he created a chatbot whom he called the Dadbot. If you are familiar with Siri, Google, or Alexa, you have an idea of what this Dadbot can accomplish.
I was not raised with tools that would help me cope with death and loss, and I think that many of us are in that same situation. Now that I'm a mom, I'm more aware of the life cycle - that time on this earth is simply a gift that we need to cherish every single day. But, what if we could carry on our legacy and love through artificial intelligence? Would it be weird or will it promote healing and reassurance to the person who is using the bot?
A couple of months ago my grandfather - one of the healthiest men I've ever met - had a stroke, and the idea of losing him was unfathomable. As days went by, I slowly started accepting that the Universe may have had other plans for this grand man. Though he is still in rehab, the man I once knew is not the same as he was before. When I read about the Dadbot, I immediately thought that this could be the perfect start to keeping the ones you love alive longer - at least in a virtual way. I know that talking to a device might not seem ideal or it might generate some bittersweet feelings, but if I had to choose between hearing my grandpa's voice whenever I miss him or not hearing him at all, the choice is obvious, at least to me.
Interview with James Vlahos, the Creator of Dadbot
Mindfully Augmented: Do you foresee the Dadbot improving people's lives? If so, how?
James Vlahos: 'Improvement' is relative because nothing can come close to making up for the loss of my father. But the Dadbot gives me more than the memories and pictures that I would otherwise have. So, yes, the technology improves my life because it is an aid to help me remember someone I loved so much.
MA: When I watched the video about Dadbot, I immediately associated it with Black Mirror's Be Right Back episode. Any connection?
JV: None at all. Though many people have pointed out the similarity, I don’t ever anticipate that my Dadbot will ever get as dark/dystopian as things did in the show!
MA: Preparing for death is typically an avoided topic in our culture. Do you believe Dadbot can help reduce the taboo?
JV: I hope so. Working on the project made me directly acknowledge the fact that I was losing my dad. For people who don’t have the desire or technical knowledge to create something like the Dadbot though, I strongly recommend doing a conventional recorded oral history. Any way of preserving memories is better than not trying to do so at all.
MA: Do you foresee a situation where people are not able to move on once they have Dadbot?
JV: I am never totally sure what people mean when they say 'moving on.' If it means letting go of memories or thoughts of someone I love, I don’t ever want to move on in that way. As such, I personally find the Dadbot helpful. If the technology did get so sophisticated that it was more like the “Black Mirror” scenario, then yes, I could foresee that being emotionally unhealthy.
MA: Thank you so much for all of these enlightening insights!
JV: You're welcome!