Future conversations with past minds

At some point in the future, we might be able to apply machine learning to analyze the corpus of all of the extant letters or emails written by an individual during their lifetime, to create a sort of imitative avatar. This could give us the capability to (more or less) “converse” with someone long dead.

I don’t claim (or believe) that we could thereby have a substantive conversation with the former Emily Dickinson, Abraham Lincoln, Jane Austen or William Shakespeare, and certainly not receive any original thoughts from those great minds. Yet we might be able to have the sense of what such a conversation would be like, if only on the level of idle chat.

I wonder just how far such a technology could take us in the limit. Suppose we were to extrapolate Moore’s Law way out into the future, positing a computational technology a billion times more powerful than current levels. How long could we comfortably chat with a virtual virtual Virginia Woolf or Sir Andrew Johnson, before the seams in the illusion begin to show?

3 Responses to “Future conversations with past minds”

  1. elmarcel says:

    Maybe you’ve already seen it, but that’s pretty much the setup for an episode of black mirror (first episode of season 2). https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Be_Right_Back

  2. admin says:

    Yes, I saw that episode. Very compelling.

    In SciFi the concept goes way back. For example, it’s in Asimov’s Foundation.

  3. J. Peterson says:

    The possibilities for this get more interesting with more recent “minds”. With Lincoln, Shakespeare, etc. all you’ve got is the text. But with, say, a virtual Steve Jobs or Robin Williams you have plenty of video and audio to draw on as well.

    An interesting example of this is the film critic, the late Roger Ebert. In his later years, Ebert lost his voice to illness. But before that, he recorded hours of audio books and film commentary. A company created a prosthetic voice synthesizer based on all this material, and it worked *really* well. He could type a few sentences into his laptop, and a voice – unquestionably Ebert’s – spoke it.

    Ebert was a prolific writer and TV commentator, so there’s a big corpus of material to train a virtual Roger Ebert with. If I were Netflix, YouTube or Amazon Video, I’d license all this stuff, and train an AI with it. Then (for an extra $4.99 a month) you have a personal chat with virtual Roger about movies when you’re trying to decide what to watch. Over time, virtual Roger learns about your tastes and interests, so he’ll keep that in mind even if the late Mr. Ebert might not agree with them (something virtual Roger still reserves the right to discuss with you).

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