Shaun Lucas
Opinion Editor

Many individuals have experienced a lonely year during the COVID-19 pandemic. Video calling and text messaging simply cannot replace the genuine communication and intimacy of interacting with friends and family in-person. Fortunately, the successful distribution of the various Covid vaccines seemingly provides a potential end of Covid-related self quarenteening and daily Zoom calls. If society was stranded at home for much longer, technology might have attempted to advance beyond human interaction.

To some, the previous statement might be excessive, yet being stuck at home led to interesting trends in terms of artificial intelligence and virtual personalities. This week, Microsoft released details of its experiments with artificial intelligent chatbots. The technology and methods were patented by Microsoft, with public files giving an overview of how the bot functions.

“The social data may be used to create or modify a special index in the theme of a specific person’s personality,” according to the published Microsoft patent. “The special index may be used to train a chatbot to converse in the personality of the specific person,” Another interesting note of the patent is how 2D and/or 3D character models can be attached to the chatbots.

The initial reaction from publications focused on the potential of the bots representing diseased individuals, including past family members. “Want to talk music with David Bowie? Or get some words of wisdom from your late grandmother? This tool would theoretically make that possible,” CNN’s Claire Duffy said. On Twitter, Tim O’Brien, Microsoft’s leader of ethical use of artificial intelligence, confirmed there’s no plans for public use of the technology.

Automatically generated chatbots are certainly not brand new developments. Still, with the cooperation of Microsoft’s scale filing such a patent, I see a realistic future of widespread literal robotic personalities. Trends within the online entertainment industry during the pandemic further support my predictions.

During the shutdowns and quarantines, virtual YouTubers (vtubers) and virtual Twitch streamers (vstreamers) became abundant across the broadcasting platforms. These vtubers and vstreamers play video games and chat with the audience just as regular entertainers do. The key difference is the virtual entertainers have a caricature being puppeteered on screen instead of a human being.

One of the more popular personalities is CodeMiko, with nearly 100 thousand subscribers on YouTube and 360 thousand followers on Twitch, according to the website Twitch Tracker. Speculations of the future aside, the technology behind these characters is quite interesting. CodeMiko is a 3D avatar who interacts with many popular internet celebrities, being solely controlled, engineered, and voiced by a woman who calls herself “The Technician.” Even the “rooms” and outfits CodeMiko use are designed by The Technician.

The traction gained by CodeMiko and other characters, primarily females, show acceptance of “non-human” interactions at an entertainment level. While puppeteered now, I can easily see these characters acting as vessels for later perfect chatbot algorithms.

Yes, Microsoft representatives are not planning to release products related to the patent in the near future. What could arise from such tech? Will there be cases of slander where a politician’s likeness is replicated saying ill-mannered statements? Could the appearance and habits of a hypothetical automated personality take physical form in human-esq robots?

Like all tech, only time will tell where this patent will lead. The only fear I have with talking to the dead through chatbots is a later inability for people to cope with loss. Of course, the skeptical reaction from many still displays a current social disconnect between humans and their screens. Although, in the distant future, that social barrier may become extinct, resembling the world as told by science fiction films. Or maybe everyone just needs time in a normal society without masks and distancing again.