Scripted pieces like this sounded contrived and weird, but as we went on, with my mom telling the memories and speaking in her own words, “she” sounded much more relaxed and natural.
However, this conversation and those that followed were limited, when I tried to ask my mother’s bot about her favorite jewelry, for example, I got, “Sorry, I didn’t get that. You can try asking another way or moving on to another topic. “
There were also errors that screeched to hilarity. One day, Dad’s robot asked me how I was. I replied: “I feel sad today”. He replied with a cheerful and upbeat “Good!”
The overall experience was undeniably odd. Every time I talked to their virtual versions, it struck me that I could talk to my real parents instead. On one occasion, my husband mistook my robot test for a real phone call. When he realized he wasn’t, he rolled his eyes, made a cheeky expression, and shook his head, as if I was completely deranged.
Earlier this year, I received a demo of a similar technology from a five-year-old startup called StoryFile, which promises to take things to the next level. Its Life service records responses on video rather than just voice.
You can choose from hundreds of questions for the topic. You then register the person who answers the questions; this can be done on any device with a camera and microphone, including a smartphone, although the higher the quality of the recording, the better the result. After uploading the files, the company turns them into a digital version of the person you can see and talk to. It can only answer the questions it has been programmed to answer, just like HereAfter, with video only.
StoryFile CEO Stephen Smith demonstrated the technology in a video call, during which she was joined by her mother. She died earlier this year, but here she is, sitting in a comfortable chair in her living room. For a short time, I could only see it, shared via Smith’s screen. She was calm, with thinning hair and friendly eyes. You have dispensed with life advice. She seemed wise.
Smith told me that his mother “attended” his own funeral: “In the end he said, ‘I guess it’s all from me … goodbye!’ and everyone broke down in tears. ”He told me his digital participation was well received by family and friends. And, probably most important of all, Smith said he was deeply comforted that he was able to capture his mother in front of the camera before she died.