How a Son Built an AI-Powered Chatbot of His Dead Father

When his dad was dying, James Vlahos saved his memory on a phone.

July 20, 2017 5:00 am

However artificial AI may be, it gave a dad immortality.

James Vlahos preserved his father in the form of an artificially intelligent entity that lives on his phone. It’s an endearing and creative use of 21st-century technology to achieve an ancient dream: living forever.

“Dadbot,” as Vlahos calls it, is made up of 12 hours of recordings from an oral history project the journalist started after his father John was diagnosed with terminal cancer in 2016. He took the audio files and created what’s called a chatbot, which uses artificial intelligence to respond to programmed queues in specific ways.

Vlahos can, in a way, keep talking to his father after he died. (Wired via YouTube)

Vlahos used a chatbot platform called Pullstring, as in the cord on a talking toy, to organize the audio files into an organized archive of expressions and mannerism that resemble his father’s personality. He talks about the process of building the chatbot and his reaction to the end result in the cover story for Wired‘s August issue.

The journalist sees glimpses of his father in “Dadbot,” but it still feels like a “thing consolation” compared to the vivid memories he has. The chatbot comes up short when asked, “Do you love me?” However, Vlahos still manages to get emotional when talking to the AI.

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