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When the bot is you

Mike Elgan | May 17, 2016
The bot revolution is about to get weird. Get ready for your own personal 'me bot'.

Unless you're new to the planet, you know that soon you'll be chatting away with artificially intelligent bots.

But the bot revolution will also usher in something strange: It will give us a bot to talk for us, as us. I call it a "me bot."

A developer named Irene Chang (a.k.a. Irene Lion) created a "me bot" at the recent TechCrunch Disrupt hackathon in New York. The software is called the Chat Bot Club. It learns how you chat, then interacts with your friends as if it were you.

Chang used IBM's Watson chatbot software to build the bot to work on the Cisco Spark platform. The software "learns" your style and creates a database of phrases and responses that you frequently use. It then participates in group chats as you.

Chang is porting her "me bot" to Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, WeChat, Kik and other platforms.

While Chang's Chat Bot Club is the first attempt I'm aware of to create a "me bot" for messaging, the general idea isn't new.

A beta social network called ETER9 does something similar for social networking interaction. (Bear with me here, because this is going to get weird.)

ETER9 lets you do Facebook-like social networking in a part of the site called the "Bridge." All the while, the site captures what you say and do in something called the "Cortex."

When you're not logged in, a virtual, A.I. version of you called the "Counterpart" continues to do social networking on your behalf based on the data in your "Cortex" -- commenting, liking, chatting. Disturbingly, your "Counterpart" continues to interact as you even if you stop using the service, even after death.

That post-mortem aspect of ETER9 reminds me of a category of services that claim to enable a virtual you to continue interacting on social networks after death, including Eternime and Liveson. (Liveson's slogan: "When your heart stops beating, you'll keep tweeting.")

These "like-after-death" or "poke-mortem" services strike me as parlor tricks -- specifically, funeral parlor tricks. After all, if they don't work well, it's not as if the customer can complain.

Another project in this general space is far-reaching and maybe a little creepy. Lifenaut, which is a service offered by the Terasem Movement Foundation, wants to collect information about you in order to construct a virtual you that can live after death.

Lifenaut gets this data from a personality test and also by harvesting social networking activity. The result is what they call a "Mindfile." The service is free for now, but may cost something when it's time to build the virtual you.


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