Tag Archives: chatbots

Resurrection consent for digital cloning of the dead

It’s a bit disconcerting to think that one might be resurrected, in this case, digitally, but Dr Masaki Iwasaki has helpfully published a study on attitudes to digital cloning and resurrection consent, which could prove helpful when establishing one’s final wishes.

A January 4, 2024 De Gruyter (publisher) press release (repurposed from a January 4, 2024 blog posting on De Gruyter.com) explains the idea and the study,

In a 2014 episode of sci-fi series Black Mirror, a grieving young widow reconnects with her dead husband using an app that trawls his social media history to mimic his online language, humor and personality. It works. She finds solace in the early interactions – but soon wants more.   

Such a scenario is no longer fiction. In 2017, the company Eternime aimed to create an avatar of a dead person using their digital footprint, but this “Skype for the dead” didn’t catch on. The machine-learning and AI algorithms just weren’t ready for it. Neither were we.

Now, in 2024, amid exploding use of Chat GPT-like programs, similar efforts are on the way. But should digital resurrection be allowed at all? And are we prepared for the legal battles over what constitutes consent?

In a study published in the Asian Journal of Law and Economics, Dr Masaki Iwasaki of Harvard Law School and currently an assistant professor at Seoul National University, explores how the deceased’s consent (or otherwise) affects attitudes to digital resurrection.

US adults were presented with scenarios where a woman in her 20s dies in a car accident. A company offers to bring a digital version of her back, but her consent is, at first, ambiguous. What should her friends decide?

Two options – one where the deceased has consented to digital resurrection and another where she hasn’t – were read by participants at random. They then answered questions about the social acceptability of bringing her back on a five-point rating scale, considering other factors such as ethics and privacy concerns.

Results showed that expressed consent shifted acceptability two points higher compared to dissent. “Although I expected societal acceptability for digital resurrection to be higher when consent was expressed, the stark difference in acceptance rates – 58% for consent versus 3% for dissent – was surprising,” says Iwasaki. “This highlights the crucial role of the deceased’s wishes in shaping public opinion on digital resurrection.”

In fact, 59% of respondents disagreed with their own digital resurrection, and around 40% of respondents did not find any kind of digital resurrection socially acceptable, even with expressed consent. “While the will of the deceased is important in determining the societal acceptability of digital resurrection, other factors such as ethical concerns about life and death, along with general apprehension towards new technology are also significant,” says Iwasaki.  

The results reflect a discrepancy between existing law and public sentiment. People’s general feelings – that the dead’s wishes should be respected – are actually not protected in most countries. The digitally recreated John Lennon in the film Forrest Gump, or animated hologram of Amy Winehouse reveal the ‘rights’ of the dead are easily overridden by those in the land of the living.

So, is your digital destiny something to consider when writing your will? It probably should be but in the current absence of clear legal regulations on the subject, the effectiveness of documenting your wishes in such a way is uncertain. For a start, how such directives are respected varies by legal jurisdiction. “But for those with strong preferences documenting their wishes could be meaningful,” says Iwasaki. “At a minimum, it serves as a clear communication of one’s will to family and associates, and may be considered when legal foundations are better established in the future.”

It’s certainly a conversation worth having now. Many generative AI chatbot services, such as like Replika (“The AI companion who cares”) and Project December (“Simulate the dead”) already enable conversations with chatbots replicating real people’s personalities. The service ‘You, Only Virtual’ (YOV) allows users to upload someone’s text messages, emails and voice conversations to create a ‘versona’ chatbot. And, in 2020, Microsoft obtained a patent to create chatbots from text, voice and image data for living people as well as for historical figures and fictional characters, with the option of rendering in 2D or 3D.

Iwasaki says he’ll investigate this and the digital resurrection of celebrities in future research. “It’s necessary first to discuss what rights should be protected, to what extent, then create rules accordingly,” he explains. “My research, building upon prior discussions in the field, argues that the opt-in rule requiring the deceased’s consent for digital resurrection might be one way to protect their rights.”

There is a link to the study in the press release above but this includes a citation, of sorts,

Digital Cloning of the Dead: Exploring the Optimal Default Rule by Masaki Iwasaki. Asian Journal of Law and Economics DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/ajle-2023-0125 Published Online: 2023-12-27

This paper is open access.

Canada, AI regulation, and the second reading of the Digital Charter Implementation Act, 2022 (Bill C-27)

Bill C-27 (Digital Charter Implementation Act, 2022) is what I believe is called an omnibus bill as it includes three different pieces of proposed legislation (the Consumer Privacy Protection Act [CPPA], the Artificial Intelligence and Data Act [AIDA], and the Personal Information and Data Protection Tribunal Act [PIDPTA]). You can read the Innovation, Science and Economic Development (ISED) Canada summary here or a detailed series of descriptions of the act here on the ISED’s Canada’s Digital Charter webpage.

Months after the first reading in June 2022, Bill C-27 was mentioned here in a September 15, 2022 posting about a Canadian Science Policy Centre (CSPC) event featuring a panel discussion about the proposed legislation, artificial intelligence in particular. I dug down and found commentaries and additional information about the proposed bill with special attention to AIDA.

it seems discussion has been reactivated since the second reading was completed on April 24, 2023 and referred to committee for further discussion. (A report and third reading are still to be had in the House of Commons and then, there are three readings in the Senate before this legislation can be passed.)

Christian Paas-Lang has written an April 24, 2023 article for CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) news online that highlights concerns centred on AI from three cross-party Members of Parliament (MPs),

Once the domain of a relatively select group of tech workers, academics and science fiction enthusiasts, the debate over the future of artificial intelligence has been thrust into the mainstream. And a group of cross-party MPs say Canada isn’t yet ready to take on the challenge.

The popularization of AI as a subject of concern has been accelerated by the introduction of ChatGPT, an AI chatbot produced by OpenAI that is capable of generating a broad array of text, code and other content. ChatGPT relies on content published on the internet as well as training from its users to improve its responses.

ChatGPT has prompted such a fervour, said Katrina Ingram, founder of the group Ethically Aligned AI, because of its novelty and effectiveness. 

“I would argue that we’ve had AI enabled infrastructure or technologies around for quite a while now, but we haven’t really necessarily been confronted with them, you know, face to face,” she told CBC Radio’s The House [radio segment embedded in article] in an interview that aired Saturday [April 22, 2023].

Ingram said the technology has prompted a series of concerns: about the livelihoods of professionals like artists and writers, about privacy, data collection and surveillance and about whether chatbots like ChatGPT can be used as tools for disinformation.

With the popularization of AI as an issue has come a similar increase in concern about regulation, and Ingram says governments must act now.

“We are contending with these technologies right now. So it’s really imperative that governments are able to pick up the pace,” she told host Catherine Cullen.

That sentiment — the need for speed — is one shared by three MPs from across party lines who are watching the development of the AI issue. Conservative MP Michelle Rempel Garner, NDP MP Brian Masse and Nathaniel Erskine-Smith of the Liberals also joined The House for an interview that aired Saturday.

“This is huge. This is the new oil,” said Masse, the NDP’s industry critic, referring to how oil had fundamentally shifted economic and geopolitical relationships, leading to a great deal of good but also disasters — and AI could do the same.

Issues of both speed and substance

The three MPs are closely watching Bill C-27, a piece of legislation currently being debated in the House of Commons that includes Canada’s first federal regulations on AI.

But each MP expressed concern that the bill may not be ready in time and changes would be needed [emphasis mine].

“This legislation was tabled in June of last year [2022], six months before ChatGPT was released and it’s like it’s obsolete. It’s like putting in place a framework to regulate scribes four months after the printing press came out,” Rempel Garner said. She added that it was wrongheaded to move the discussion of AI away from Parliament and segment it off to a regulatory body.

Am I the only person who sees a problem with the “bill may not be ready in time and changes would be needed?” I don’t understand the rush (or how these people get elected). The point of a bill is to examine the ideas and make changes to it before it becomes legislation. Given how fluid the situation appears to be, a strong argument can be made for the current process which is three readings in the House of Commons, along with a committee report, and three readings in the senate before a bill, if successful, is passed into legislation.

Of course, the fluidity of the situation could also be an argument for starting over as Michael Geist’s (Canada Research Chair in Internet and E-Commerce Law at the University of Ottawa and member of the Centre for Law, Technology and Society) April 19, 2023 post on his eponymous blog suggests, Note: Links have been removed,

As anyone who has tried ChatGPT will know, at the bottom of each response is an option to ask the AI system to “regenerate response”. Despite increasing pressure on the government to move ahead with Bill C-27’s Artificial Intelligence and Data Act (AIDA), the right response would be to hit the regenerate button and start over. AIDA may be well-meaning and the issue of AI regulation critically important, but the bill is limited in principles and severely lacking in detail, leaving virtually all of the heavy lifting to a regulation-making process that will take years to unfold. While no one should doubt the importance of AI regulation, Canadians deserve better than virtue signalling on the issue with a bill that never received a full public consultation.

What prompts this post is a public letter based out of MILA that calls on the government to urgently move ahead with the bill signed by some of Canada’s leading AI experts. The letter states: …

When the signatories to the letter suggest that there is prospect of moving AIDA forward before the summer, it feels like a ChatGPT error. There are a maximum of 43 days left on the House of Commons calendar until the summer. In all likelihood, it will be less than that. Bill C-27 is really three bills in one: major privacy reform, the creation of a new privacy tribunal, and AI regulation. I’ve watched the progress of enough bills to know that this just isn’t enough time to conduct extensive hearings on the bill, conduct a full clause-by-clause review, debate and vote in the House, and then conduct another review in the Senate. At best, Bill C-27 could make some headway at committee, but getting it passed with a proper review is unrealistic.

Moreover, I am deeply concerned about a Parliamentary process that could lump together these three bills in an expedited process. …

For anyone unfamiliar with MILA, it is also known as Quebec’s Artificial Intelligence Institute. (They seem to have replaced institute with ecosystem since the last time I checked.) You can see the document and list of signatories here.

Geist has a number of posts and podcasts focused on the bill and the easiest way to find them is to use the search term ‘Bill C-27’.

Maggie Arai at the University of Toronto’s Schwartz Reisman Institute for Technology and Society provides a brief overview titled, Five things to know about Bill C-27, in her April 18, 2022 commentary,

On June 16, 2022, the Canadian federal government introduced Bill C-27, the Digital Charter Implementation Act 2022, in the House of Commons. Bill C-27 is not entirely new, following in the footsteps of Bill C-11 (the Digital Charter Implementation Act 2020). Bill C-11 failed to pass, dying on the Order Paper when the Governor General dissolved Parliament to hold the 2021 federal election. While some aspects of C-27 will likely be familiar to those who followed the progress of Bill C-11, there are several key differences.

After noting the differences, Arai had this to say, from her April 18, 2022 commentary,

The tabling of Bill C-27 represents an exciting step forward for Canada as it attempts to forge a path towards regulating AI that will promote innovation of this advanced technology, while simultaneously offering consumers assurance and protection from the unique risks this new technology it poses. This second attempt towards the CPPA and PIDPTA is similarly positive, and addresses the need for updated and increased consumer protection, privacy, and data legislation.

However, as the saying goes, the devil is in the details. As we have outlined, several aspects of how Bill C-27 will be implemented are yet to be defined, and how the legislation will interact with existing social, economic, and legal dynamics also remains to be seen.

There are also sections of C-27 that could be improved, including areas where policymakers could benefit from the insights of researchers with domain expertise in areas such as data privacy, trusted computing, platform governance, and the social impacts of new technologies. In the coming weeks, the Schwartz Reisman Institute will present additional commentaries from our community that explore the implications of C-27 for Canadians when it comes to privacy, protection against harms, and technological governance.

Bryan Short’s September 14, 2022 posting (The Absolute Bare Minimum: Privacy and the New Bill C-27) on the Open Media website critiques two of the three bills included in Bill C-27, Note: Links have been removed,

The Canadian government has taken the first step towards creating new privacy rights for people in Canada. After a failed attempt in 2020 and three years of inaction since the proposal of the digital charter, the government has tabled another piece of legislation aimed at giving people in Canada the privacy rights they deserve.

In this post, we’ll explore how Bill C-27 compares to Canada’s current privacy legislation, how it stacks up against our international peers, and what it means for you. This post considers two of the three acts being proposed in Bill C-27, the Consumer Privacy Protection Act (CPPA) and the Personal Information and Data Tribunal Act (PIDTA), and doesn’t discuss the Artificial Intelligence and Data Act [emphasis mine]. The latter Act’s engagement with very new and complex issues means we think it deserves its own consideration separate from existing privacy proposals, and will handle it as such.

If we were to give Bill C-27’s CPPA and PIDTA a grade, it’d be a D. This is legislation that does the absolute bare minimum for privacy protections in Canada, and in some cases it will make things actually worse. If they were proposed and passed a decade ago, we might have rated it higher. However, looking ahead at predictable movement in data practices over the next ten – or even twenty – years, these laws will be out of date the moment they are passed, and leave people in Canada vulnerable to a wide range of predatory data practices. For detailed analysis, read on – but if you’re ready to raise your voice, go check out our action calling for positive change before C-27 passes!

Taking this all into account, Bill C-27 isn’t yet the step forward for privacy in Canada that we need. While it’s an improvement upon the last privacy bill that the government put forward, it misses so many areas that are critical for improvement, like failing to put people in Canada above the commercial interests of companies.

If Open Media has followed up with an AIDA critique, I have not been able to find it on their website.

Ghosts, mechanical turks, and pseudo-AI (artificial intelligence)—Is it all a con game?

There’s been more than one artificial intelligence (AI) story featured here on this blog but the ones featured in this posting are the first I’ve stumbled across that suggest the hype is even more exaggerated than even the most cynical might have thought. (BTW, the 2019 material is later as I have taken a chronological approach to this posting.)

It seems a lot of companies touting their AI algorithms and capabilities are relying on human beings to do the work, from a July 6, 2018 article by Olivia Solon for the Guardian (Note: A link has been removed),

It’s hard to build a service powered by artificial intelligence. So hard, in fact, that some startups have worked out it’s cheaper and easier to get humans to behave like robots than it is to get machines to behave like humans.

“Using a human to do the job lets you skip over a load of technical and business development challenges. It doesn’t scale, obviously, but it allows you to build something and skip the hard part early on,” said Gregory Koberger, CEO of ReadMe, who says he has come across a lot of “pseudo-AIs”.

“It’s essentially prototyping the AI with human beings,” he said.

In 2017, the business expense management app Expensify admitted that it had been using humans to transcribe at least some of the receipts it claimed to process using its “smartscan technology”. Scans of the receipts were being posted to Amazon’s Mechanical Turk crowdsourced labour tool, where low-paid workers were reading and transcribing them.

“I wonder if Expensify SmartScan users know MTurk workers enter their receipts,” said Rochelle LaPlante, a “Turker” and advocate for gig economy workers on Twitter. “I’m looking at someone’s Uber receipt with their full name, pick-up and drop-off addresses.”

Even Facebook, which has invested heavily in AI, relied on humans for its virtual assistant for Messenger, M.

In some cases, humans are used to train the AI system and improve its accuracy. …

The Turk

Fooling people with machines that seem intelligent is not new according to a Sept. 10, 2018 article by Seth Stevenson for Slate.com (Note: Links have been removed),

It’s 1783, and Paris is gripped by the prospect of a chess match. One of the contestants is François-André Philidor, who is considered the greatest chess player in Paris, and possibly the world. Everyone is so excited because Philidor is about to go head-to-head with the other biggest sensation in the chess world at the time.

But his opponent isn’t a man. And it’s not a woman, either. It’s a machine.

This story may sound a lot like Garry Kasparov taking on Deep Blue, IBM’s chess-playing supercomputer. But that was only a couple of decades ago, and this chess match in Paris happened more than 200 years ago. It doesn’t seem like a robot that can play chess would even be possible in the 1780s. This machine playing against Philidor was making an incredible technological leap—playing chess, and not only that, but beating humans at chess.

In the end, it didn’t quite beat Philidor, but the chess master called it one of his toughest matches ever. It was so hard for Philidor to get a read on his opponent, which was a carved wooden figure—slightly larger than life—wearing elaborate garments and offering a cold, mean stare.

It seems like the minds of the era would have been completely blown by a robot that could nearly beat a human chess champion. Some people back then worried that it was black magic, but many folks took the development in stride. …

Debates about the hottest topic in technology today—artificial intelligence—didn’t starts in the 1940s, with people like Alan Turing and the first computers. It turns out that the arguments about AI go back much further than you might imagine. The story of the 18th-century chess machine turns out to be one of those curious tales from history that can help us understand technology today, and where it might go tomorrow.

[In future episodes our podcast, Secret History of the Future] we’re going to look at the first cyberattack, which happened in the 1830s, and find out how the Victorians invented virtual reality.

Philidor’s opponent was known as The Turk or Mechanical Turk and that ‘machine’ was in fact a masterful hoax as The Turk held a hidden compartment from which a human being directed his moves.

People pretending to be AI agents

It seems that today’s AI has something in common with the 18th century Mechanical Turk, there are often humans lurking in the background making things work. From a Sept. 4, 2018 article by Janelle Shane for Slate.com (Note: Links have been removed),

Every day, people are paid to pretend to be bots.

In a strange twist on “robots are coming for my job,” some tech companies that boast about their artificial intelligence have found that at small scales, humans are a cheaper, easier, and more competent alternative to building an A.I. that can do the task.

Sometimes there is no A.I. at all. The “A.I.” is a mockup powered entirely by humans, in a “fake it till you make it” approach used to gauge investor interest or customer behavior. Other times, a real A.I. is combined with human employees ready to step in if the bot shows signs of struggling. These approaches are called “pseudo-A.I.” or sometimes, more optimistically, “hybrid A.I.”

Although some companies see the use of humans for “A.I.” tasks as a temporary bridge, others are embracing pseudo-A.I. as a customer service strategy that combines A.I. scalability with human competence. They’re advertising these as “hybrid A.I.” chatbots, and if they work as planned, you will never know if you were talking to a computer or a human. Every remote interaction could turn into a form of the Turing test. So how can you tell if you’re dealing with a bot pretending to be a human or a human pretending to be a bot?

One of the ways you can’t tell anymore is by looking for human imperfections like grammar mistakes or hesitations. In the past, chatbots had prewritten bits of dialogue that they could mix and match according to built-in rules. Bot speech was synonymous with precise formality. In early Turing tests, spelling mistakes were often a giveaway that the hidden speaker was a human. Today, however, many chatbots are powered by machine learning. Instead of using a programmer’s rules, these algorithms learn by example. And many training data sets come from services like Amazon’s Mechanical Turk, which lets programmers hire humans from around the world to generate examples of tasks like asking and answering questions. These data sets are usually full of casual speech, regionalisms, or other irregularities, so that’s what the algorithms learn. It’s not uncommon these days to get algorithmically generated image captions that read like text messages. And sometimes programmers deliberately add these things in, since most people don’t expect imperfections of an algorithm. In May, Google’s A.I. assistant made headlines for its ability to convincingly imitate the “ums” and “uhs” of a human speaker.

Limited computing power is the main reason that bots are usually good at just one thing at a time. Whenever programmers try to train machine learning algorithms to handle additional tasks, they usually get algorithms that can do many tasks rather badly. In other words, today’s algorithms are artificial narrow intelligence, or A.N.I., rather than artificial general intelligence, or A.G.I. For now, and for many years in the future, any algorithm or chatbot that claims A.G.I-level performance—the ability to deal sensibly with a wide range of topics—is likely to have humans behind the curtain.

Another bot giveaway is a very poor memory. …

Bringing AI to life: ghosts

Sidney Fussell’s April 15, 2019 article for The Atlantic provides more detail about the human/AI interface as found in some Amazon products such as Alexa ( a voice-control system),

… Alexa-enabled speakers can and do interpret speech, but Amazon relies on human guidance to make Alexa, well, more human—to help the software understand different accents, recognize celebrity names, and respond to more complex commands. This is true of many artificial intelligence–enabled products. They’re prototypes. They can only approximate their promised functions while humans help with what Harvard researchers have called “the paradox of automation’s last mile.” Advancements in AI, the researchers write, create temporary jobs such as tagging images or annotating clips, even as the technology is meant to supplant human labor. In the case of the Echo, gig workers are paid to improve its voice-recognition software—but then, when it’s advanced enough, it will be used to replace the hostess in a hotel lobby.

A 2016 paper by researchers at Stanford University used a computer vision system to infer, with 88 percent accuracy, the political affiliation of 22 million people based on what car they drive and where they live. Traditional polling would require a full staff, a hefty budget, and months of work. The system completed the task in two weeks. But first, it had to know what a car was. The researchers paid workers through Amazon’s Mechanical Turk [emphasis mine] platform to manually tag thousands of images of cars, so the system would learn to differentiate between shapes, styles, and colors.

It may be a rude awakening for Amazon Echo owners, but AI systems require enormous amounts of categorized data, before, during, and after product launch. ..,

Isn’t interesting that Amazon also has a crowdsourcing marketplace for its own products. Calling it ‘Mechanical Turk’ after a famous 18th century hoax would suggest a dark sense of humour somewhere in the corporation. (You can find out more about the Amazon Mechanical Turk on this Amazon website and in its Wikipedia entry.0

Anthropologist, Mary L. Gray has coined the phrase ‘ghost work’ for the work that humans perform but for which AI gets the credit. Angela Chan’s May 13, 2019 article for The Verge features Gray as she promotes her latest book with Siddarth Suri ‘Ghost Work: How to Stop Silicon Valley from Building a New Global Underclass’ (Note: A link has been removed),

“Ghost work” is anthropologist Mary L. Gray’s term for the invisible labor that powers our technology platforms. When Gray, a senior researcher at Microsoft Research, first arrived at the company, she learned that building artificial intelligence requires people to manage and clean up data to feed to the training algorithms. “I basically started asking the engineers and computer scientists around me, ‘Who are the people you pay to do this task work of labeling images and classification tasks and cleaning up databases?’” says Gray. Some people said they didn’t know. Others said they didn’t want to know and were concerned that if they looked too closely they might find unsavory working conditions.

So Gray decided to find out for herself. Who are the people, often invisible, who pick up the tasks necessary for these platforms to run? Why do they do this work, and why do they leave? What are their working conditions?

The interview that follows is interesting although it doesn’t seem to me that the question about working conditions is answered in any great detail. However, there is this rather interesting policy suggestion,

If companies want to happily use contract work because they need to constantly churn through new ideas and new aptitudes, the only way to make that a good thing for both sides of that enterprise is for people to be able to jump into that pool. And people do that when they have health care and other provisions. This is the business case for universal health care, for universal education as a public good. It’s going to benefit all enterprise.

I want to get across to people that, in a lot of ways, we’re describing work conditions. We’re not describing a particular type of work. We’re describing today’s conditions for project-based task-driven work. This can happen to everybody’s jobs, and I hate that that might be the motivation because we should have cared all along, as this has been happening to plenty of people. For me, the message of this book is: let’s make this not just manageable, but sustainable and enjoyable. Stop making our lives wrap around work, and start making work serve our lives.

Puts a different spin on AI and work, doesn’t it?