What Happens When You Create a Chatbot to Memorialize a Friend

Whenever we lose someone close to us, there’s an inclination, a need even, to sort through our memories of that person. Memories not just in our minds, but our digital memories too—emails, texts, photos, videos, social media posts.

But eventually, we have to stop looking through those texts and photos, because after a while, it’s like listening to a song on repeat for too long. The memories are static, they will never change, shift, and grow like the real person, and you just have to move on.

When Eugenia Kuyda lost her best friend, Roman Mazurenko, she wanted to memorialize him in a different way. As the cofounder of Luka, an artificial intelligence startup which recommends books and restaurants through a chat interface, Kuyda worked with her engineering team to collect thousands of Mazurenko’s texts and create a chatbot based on his personality.

The chatbot became informed by a collection of Roman’s interactions with various friends and family — no longer bound by just one person’s memories, it became a collection of the different facets of his personality.

The result was moving, uncanny — not like Roman and just like him all at once. Some of Roman’s friends appreciated the ability to interact with the Roman-like bot, while others were disturbed by it. His mother, in particular, felt she was getting to know her son in new ways through the bot.

The striking part of the story is how Roman’s friends and family ended up using the bot…

“It turned out that the primary purpose of the bot had not been to talk but to listen. ‘All those messages were about love, or telling him something they never had time to tell him,’ Kuyda said. ‘Even if it’s not a real person, there was a place where they could say it. They can say it when they feel lonely. And they come back still.’ ”

One of the greatest wishes and needs we have when we lose someone is to have a few more moments to tell them all the things we wish we had while they were still alive. Maybe, in the end, it helps just to feel that we have a safe place to say those things, even if it’s only a digital re-creation of the person listening.

You can read the full story here. It’s beautiful and poignant and well worth the read.

Image credit: Shutterstock

Sveta McShane
Sveta McShane
Sveta writes about the intersection of biology and technology (and occasionally other things). She also enjoys long walks on the beach, being underwater and climbing rocks. You can follow her @svm118.
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