Is it ethical for Microsoft to turn people into robots?

RobotPhoto: Comfreak / Pixabay

A new technology patent received by Microsoft sparked a series of online debates.

In December of 2020, Microsoft received an eyebrow-raising patent from the United States Patent and Trademark Office.


Bots modeled on people

The patent outlines a method for constructing a chatbot modeled after a “specific person”.

According to the file, this can be a “past or present entity” – meaning a dead person or a living person – “such as a friend, a relative, an acquaintance, a celebrity, a fictional character, a historical figure…”

You might associate a “chatbot” with the automatized “Hello! How may I help you?” instant message box that pops up as you’re booking a hotel room or shopping online.

The filing, however, appears to go beyond that. A section of the patent reads: “A 2D or 3D model of a specific person may be generated…”.

So, the patent effectively paves the way for creating not only a “conversational chatbot”… But a lifelike, life-size, 3D version of anyone from your favorite fictional character to your deceased grandparents.

How would it work?

Data like “images, social media posts, messages, voice data and written letters”, behavioral attributes such as “user interests, opinions, etc.” and demographic information such as “age, gender, education, profession, income level, relationship status, etc.” would be taught to the bot.

The goal would be a bot that could “converse and interact in the personality of the specific person.”

According to the patent, this means: “Conversing in the personality of a specific person may include determining and/or using conversational attributes of the specific person, such as style, diction, tone, voice, intent, sentence/dialogue length and complexity, topic and consistency.”

“It’s disturbing”

, agreed Microsoft’s General Manager of AI Programs Tim O’Brien.

O’Brien’s Tweet followed online shock at the patent, with people comparing the situation to a certain Black Mirror episode and expressing concern over privacy and ethics.

“Benefits” and “issues”

O’Brien commented on the benefits and issues of the technology on Twitter, ultimately concluding, that the patent is “just not a scenario we’re working on”.

It’s completely unclear, however, what Microsoft will do with this patent it now holds in the future.

Based on outdated ethics levels?

Microsoft filed an application for this technology in April of 2017, which O’Brien claimed “predates the AI ethics reviews we do today.”

2017 was only four years ago and well into the age of AI development.

But apparently, that was too early for a non-“disturbing” AI ethics strategy at Microsoft.

That’s not to raise questions about Microsoft, only.

Another player’s ethics and processes should be evaluated, too – those of the US government body that approved this patent as is.

What do you think about this patent?

Source: #Norway Today, #NorwayTodayNews

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1 Comment on "Is it ethical for Microsoft to turn people into robots?"

  1. So I could have – and even make love to – my first love again, as she was then? (Paul Davis’s song ’65 Love Affair was real.) She would not appreciate that, and she is still alive.

    Unkind mothers in law and bullies – nightmares – could be brought back to life to torment again?

    As to the Nazi Holocaust, there has never been any education about the tenS of millions of *Soviet* “liquidation” survivors … or victims …, and the ethnic bias of Holocaust Education – in the previous article about such education in Norway the 5 million non-Jewish victims were not mentioned – breeds the kind of biased self-righteousness and victimization (even if most of our young being so-educated aren’t Jewish) which seems to license *us* committing holocausts … on Iraqi, Syrian, Libyan, and other peoples.

    The Holocaust history establishment is running out of Germans to prosecute and hold up in our faces – the latest/last? is a 95 year old German woman who was a teenager secretary in a camp office – but now with robots as the Lesley Stahl news program showed, this can be kept going indefinitely … maybe even rebirthing Auschwitz commandant Eichmann to vilify.

    NO thank you. There are some past people who are better left dead dead. 2D movie characters on screens are evil and disturbing enough.

    In any case, what rights will people have *not* to be brought back to “life” and/or to oppose someone else being so?

    MAYBE there is something in positive historical figures being “brought back to life” – at the excellent Abraham Lincoln Museum in Springfield Illinois, they have holograph/3D programs of people including even soldiers on an American Civil War battlefield – but even they could be twisted to promote an inaccurate, biased, emotionalizing version of history which we are now seeing more of. Look at how Donald Trump has demonically mobilized extremism in America.

    We dwell on the past enough already. Better to let the dead rest in peace … and give us peace.

    Biologically cloning from cells of the dead is a whole other matter, of course.

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