In “Be Right Back,” an episode of the British futurist drama “Black Mirror,” a woman named Martha loses her fiancée, Ash, in a car accident. The young couple had each been active social media users, and, in the world of the episode, that digital footprint enables Martha to recreate her dead loved one. After starting small, holding text conversations with the artificial-intelligence version of Ash, she moves on to phone calls and, soon, a life-sized android.
The episode aired just three years ago, but a Russian woman named Eugenia Kuyda has debuted a strangely similar project ― without the androids ― detailed in a bittersweet feature published this week by The Verge.
Kuyda’s close friend Roman Mazurenko was killed in a Moscow hit-and-run car accident in November 2015. After his sudden death, Kuyda took advantage of resources she’d been using to build a messaging app to see if she could recreate her friend’s voice in text. With over 8,000 lines of text messages from Mazurenko donated from friends and family, Kuyda debuted a digital version of her friend through her existing app, Luka, in May. Users could chat with Mazurenko, who was deeply involved in the tech sphere himself, by tagging @Roman.
Kuyda is far from the first to make computers imitate humans. In 2010, Sirius Radio founder Martine Rothblatt unveiled BINA48, a lifelike bust of her wife, Bina Aspen. In 1966, computer scientist Joseph Weizenbaum gave the world a program that answered human questions, called ELIZA.
So far, the Roman bot has received mixed responses; some who knew Mazurenko believe it sounds eerily like him, others believe it’s an abomination and refuse to interact with it, The Verge reports. But Kuyda isn’t giving up on a future where computers can speak like humans.
For the whole story, head to The Verge.
“Black Mirror” returns to Netflix with new episodes on Oct. 21.