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When Roman Mazurenko was killed by a hit-and-run driver in late 2015, his friend Eugenia Kyda, then in her late 20s, found herself scrolling through their old text conversations. She was searching for vestiges of her friend in his digital footprint. Roman was always fascinated by the idea that our data would outlive our physical selves, so as an homage, Eugenia decided to use Roman’s online data—at least what she could access—to bring her friend back to life.

Two years before Roman’s untimely death, Eugenia had co-founded Luka, a startup that used artificial intelligence to build chatbots. Its first product was a Yelp competitor that users could text for restaurant recommendations. After Roman passed, Eugenia realized her company’s tech could be put toward another purpose.

From the digital history of texts she’d exchanged with Roman, Eugenia created Romanbot, a chatbot that allows anyone to “communicate” with a digital re-creation of her lost friend. Not only has Romanbot inherited aspects of Roman’s personality and patterns of speech, but thanks to machine learning, which enables the bot to dynamically improve through interaction, Romanbot will grow. Over time, Romanbot has and will continue to develop an understanding of current events, form new opinions, and evolve beyond the Roman his friends once knew—just as a living human would continue to mature.

Romanbot is part of a larger field of inquiry known colloquially as “augmented eternity,” in which academics and technologists explore ways the human mind might be downloaded, recreated, and transferred into other forms. “Eventually the mind will become migratable information, just like files can migrate from one device to another and live in the cloud,” says Michael Graziano, a professor of psychology and neuroscience at Princeton University. “When the information processor”—the brain—“goes, you’ll be able to copy [the mind] and implement it in other hardware.”

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Category: Science