Story URL: http://news.medill.northwestern.edu/chicago/news.aspx?id=229930
Story Retrieval Date: 9/30/2014 2:55:00 PM CST
Courtesy of Elle Metz/MEDILL
Imagine immortality as an avatar.
The site Eterni.me promises to compile information about you during your lifetime and then generate a digital avatar of you that can interact with your family and friends once you pass away.
“Nobody wants to be forgotten,” said the site’s co-founder and CEO Marius Ursache. “What we offer is to aggregate the digital data that everybody of us spread over the Internet during his lifetime and condense them in a digital alter ego.”
Eterni.me, has more than 22,000 clients registered so far and anyone can go to the site and sign up. The site will allow users to designate sources Eterni.me can use to gather data. These include social media, photos, emails, and geolocation history, according to Ursache.
He said Eterni.me won’t fully launch until 2016.
Piotr J. Gmytrasiewicz, a researcher at the University of Illinois at Chicago’s Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, explained that Eterni.me’s avatar would likely be governed by the same principle as current virtual assistants, such as Apple’s Siri.
The technology compiles data and then utilizes this information, wherever relevant, to interact with a human user, according to Gmytrasiewicz.
“It’s a whole bunch of algorithms a lot of times working in concert. Some of those algorithms search for information. And they are very efficient search engines,” he said. “Other algorithms are attempting to parse what it is that is being said” by the human user.
Eterni.me’s avatar will be trained by its user to emulate the person’s look and personality, said Ursache.
“By periodically interacting with this avatar,” he said, “it becomes more accurate and knows more about you in time.”
That may sound cool or creepy, evidence of the power and peril of artificial intelligence.
This genuine human-like interaction is one of the major challenges facing artificial intelligence researchers today.
“Being able to…model what the intent of that human is…that’s something that is a main stumbling block,” Gmytrasiewicz said. “We read people’s faces, we read their gaze. We look where they look. So for robots, facial recognition, emotional recognition…all of that is very new.”
Another major stumbling block could be perception. As the film “Transcendence,” which premieres Friday, and myriad sinister science fiction films demonstrate, humans have a fascination and sometimes a fear of artificial intelligence technology.
“Having a robot read your intentions is unnerving,” Gmytrasiewicz said, “because people are not sure how this information is going to be used and whether this information can be used against them.”
"We don't expect people who are afraid of AI to use Eterni.me," Ursache said. He is interested in users curating a digital legacy for future generations.
“As long as people feel this is useful for them, they will overcome their concerns,” he said.
Gmytrasiewicz said wariness of artificial intelligence is a matter of familiarity.
“We don’t think twice about giving all this information to Siri…it’s going to become somewhat similar with robots. We’re going to become accustomed to it,” he said