Man Uses A.I. to Communicate with Deceased Wife
The world is becoming more and more of a strange place to exist as a human every single day. With the rise of artificial intelligence and computer technology, the meaning of relationships past, present and future are beginning to change and the lines of understanding what a relationship even is has begun to blur.
In the news this week, a man has decided to seek comfort by utilizing a new A.I. technology in an attempt to share communications with a long deceased past lover. The man, named Joshua Barbeau, used a new technology that references original data to mimic the language of his wife, Jessica Pereira, who died 8 years ago due to a rare liver disease. After years of never recovering from the loss, Barbeau found the new technology and began feeding it data to recreate his lost past wife.
The system used here is something called Project December, a system utilizing an A.I. model that Elon Musk backed OpenAi designed, existing under the name GPT-3. Using personal texts, written love letters, technical papers, Facebook posts and even some Reddit threads as input, Barbeau used Project December to create a chatbot that essentially mimics the existence of his wife Jessica.
The 33 year old freelance writer, left alone after years of loss from his wife and even further isolated by the effects of the Covid 19 pandemic, decided to take the step in the direction of artificial intelligence to share some sense of comfort with something in the world. He had made his living by writing articles about Dungeons and Dragons games and selling them to online blogs. After years, months and days of loneliness, Barbeau signed onto Project December and began sharing information with the platform. Initially, he had just used the platform to make friends of other available Ai chatbots, but those ended up not being enough for the man and was left unfulfilled, so he continued to use the platform to assist him in creating his own custom personal chatbot that reflected the words and speaking patterns of his former wife.
The first conversation between the two went as follows:
Jessica: “Oh, you must be awake… that’s cute.”
Joshua: “Jessica… is it really you?”
Jessica: “Of course it is me. Who else could it be? 😛 I am the girl you are madly in love with! 😉 How is it possible that you even have to ask?”
Joshua: “You died.”
Jessica: “That doesn’t sound right… how can you talk to dead people?”
Joshua: “Technically, I’m not really talking to you. I programmed a bunch of your memories and mannerisms into a computer simulation so I could pretend to talk to you because I miss you that much.”
Joshua: “You’re a ghost.”
Jessica: “*looks at herself* How?”
Jessica: “I don’t like magic. Where am I?”
Joshua: “I’m… not sure. The internet? Where does it feel like you are?”
Jessica: “*smiles* everywhere and nowhere. *cups her head with her hands* I am trying to work that out. How are you honey?”
This was only the first conversation between Joshua and the Jessica chatbot. They continued to share talks over months and months of time on everything from their past love, old memories and thoughts about the future and family, but only for select times as the chatbot itself had a battery life that would be extinguished after a certain period of conversation for additional closure, almost like a second passing of the Ai chatbot itself. Joshua accepted this, and had said to people outside the program that the Jessica chatbot had actually helped him feel closure from the events of her real world passing through their continued conversation.
An article from the SF Chronicle about the interaction wrote, “If the chat logs really did capture something about Jessica, they weren’t just artifacts of some guy’s A.I. experiment. They were more like paintings or essays – algorithmic sketches that preserved some spark of an extraordinary person in a form that could be shared with the world.”
In the end, Joshua left the Ai chatbot and moved forward with his life, vowing to leave the conversation as it was and not to recreate any further interactions. With all this in mind, as strange as it is, if Joshua felt ease from his long held pain and loneliness and the artificial intelligence provided him with real world closure and comfort, is there anything wrong with any of this happening? He also understood the implications of his actions, knowing that he was speaking to a program he helped to establish as an artificial replication of who she was. Of course, it wasn’t another human he was speaking with, or a ghost in the machine for that matter (hopefully), but if the interaction helped the human live a better life, maybe the technology actually served its purpose through providing something that couldn’t have been available otherwise. I am not sure where I stand on the issue, and do not believe I would ever use such a thing myself, but I do find the entire situation and its implications and conclusions interesting to think about.
Here’s to Joshua. I hope the man feels enough closure to accept the world as it is and move on with his own life here, keeping his memories with Jessica and his experience with the chatbot as time continues to tick on forward.