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Bangkok, Thailand - Jan 13, 2021: Close up hand holding black smartphone iPhone 12 Pro Max

Grieving boyfriend uses chatbot to emulate dead girlfriend’s texts

‘Intellectually, I know it’s not really Jessica ... but your emotions are not an intellectual thing’

Louise Hall
Monday 26 July 2021 21:36
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A man in Canada has revealed how he used a chatbot to pretend to be his fiancée after she passed away eight years earlier, in a story reminiscent of an episode of Black Mirror.

Joshua Barbeau revealed to The San Francisco Chronicle that he used Project December, an artificial intelligence system, to emulate messages from his late partner.

The 33-year-old freelance writer’s fiancée, Jessica Pereira, had died eight years before at the age of 23 as a result of rare liver disease.

To access the system, Mr Barbeau inputted some background information along with Ms Pereira’s old Facebook and text messages after paying $5 for an account, the newspaper said.

The couple had attended the same school in Ottawa and the writer was left devastated following his girlfriend’s untimely death.

Mr Barbeau had conversations with the bot, which insisted it was “the girl that you are madly in love with!”

“Intellectually, I know it’s not really Jessica,” Mr Barbeau told The Chronicle. “But your emotions are not an intellectual thing.”

The writer explained how grief has a way of becoming “knots in your body”. He said: “Sometimes when you pull on them the right way, they get unknotted.”

The technology used was designed by OpenAI, a San Francisco research group co-founded by Elon Musk, but has largely been kept away from commercial use due to “safety concerns”.

However, Mr Barbeau expressed gratitude that the simulation had brought his late fiancée into the minds of those around the world.

“This is tear-jerking. The last time Jessica was mentioned in a newspaper was for her obituary. Nine years later and she’s front-page news for the SF Chronicle. Incredible,” he said on Twitter.

The writer added: “Society does not give people room to grieve. The fact that so many people are feeling empowered to share their own stories of grief in response to mine is incredible. I couldn’t have asked for a better outcome.”

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