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Tuesday, July 19, 2022

Simulating the Voices of the Dead

Consider the complexity ... 

Raising the Voices of the Dead      By Tim Hornyak,   Commissioned by CACM Staff   July 19, 2022

Artificial intelligence experts and ethicists are urging caution about potential adverse effects of using the latest generation of artificial intelligence (AI) agents to simulate the expressions of people who have died. The issue is gaining attention after recent demonstrations of text- and voice-based machine learning models built on natural language processing. Like the use of deepfakes in online videos, the trend presents a minefield of moral quandaries. 

Channeling RBG

Israeli AI company AI21 Labs recently developed a chatbot called Ask Ruth Bader Ginsburg based on the writings of the eponymous Supreme Court justice who died in 2020. The company used a 600,000-word corpus from 27 years of Ginsburg's legal writings, speeches, and interviews to train a large language-processing neural network it developed called Jurassic-1. It billed this customized version of the model as a "fun digital experience" and a means to spark public engagement with AI while exploring its limits. The software's developers say the chatbot can emulate how Ginsburg would answer questions. ....

"Regarding both substance and style, the model is sometimes uncannily accurate, sometimes correct but rather bland and uninformative, and sometimes though infrequently plainly wrong, saying things the late judge would never say," says Yoav Shoham, a cofounder of AI21 and a former AI professor at Stanford University.

The company's goal in creating the chatbot was to entice users to recognize both their highest expectations and darkest fears as they relate to AI, while understanding the limits of the technology. Shoham said AI21 plans other educational AI experiences, without elaborating. He added that the chatbot is "absolutely not intended for commercial use." 

Alexa, talk like Grandma

Other companies seem to have no qualms about selling simulations of the departed. Amazon said it is developing technology that would allow its Alexa service to clone the voices of dead loved ones after hearing their original voices for less than a minute.

Alexa already can be set to speak in the voices of celebrities such as Samuel L. Jackson. At its re:MARS (Machine learning, Automation, Robotics, Space) event in Las Vegas in June, the e-commerce giant showed a video in which a boy asks Alexa to have his late grandmother finish reading The Wizard of Oz. The speaker complies and switches to an old lady voice as the boy follows along with the novel, smiling.

"While AI can't eliminate that pain of loss, it can definitely make their memories last," Rohit Prasad, head scientist for Alexa, told re:MARS attendees. "We are unquestionably living in the golden era of AI, where our dreams and science fiction are becoming a reality."

The announcement drew headlines suggesting the technology could make users feel uncomfortable. Some compared it to an episode of the British science fiction series Black Mirror, in which a grieving woman uses an AI service to interact with a synthetic recreation of her boyfriend who died in a car accident.

As technological mimicry of human expression increases in sophistication, experts warn we are not ready for potential unintended side effects.  .... ' 

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