Journalist James Vlahos has developed a unique way to cope with the loss of his father John, who died of lung cancer in February.
He has created Dadbot, an “artificial intelligence” chatbot in his father’s image.
Vlahos recorded a series of audio interviews with his father during his final months on subjects such as his family history, education, and career.
“We were losing my dad and I knew I couldn’t stop that. But I and my family we just wanted to kind of preserve him in any way we could, to have his story recorded, and also to have a little aspects of his personality preserved as well”, he told Reuters on Monday.
Vlahos is in Lisbon at the Web Summit 2017 to present his invention to what’s been billed as “the best technology conference on the planet”.
“The Dadbot is a chatbot that you interact with on Facebook Messenger that allows anyone who uses it to send little messages and get messages back to have a conversation as it were with my Dad and to ask him about different parts of his life, hear him sing some of his favourite songs, tell some of his favourite jokes, and hear little stories from his life,” he said.
His Dadbot also includes photographs of his father.
Vlahos uses it regularly and his mother spoke positively about her experience interacting with it.
“We’re entering this era of conversational AIs,” said Vlahos. “It’s this thing that’s been promised to us for decades and is finally getting here.”
Vlahos’s mother interacted with it once, and has asked her son to have access to it again, while others have expressed interest in the idea.
“I get a lot of people who reached out and said they wished they had something like this for their Dad dad who passed away,” he said.
Vlahos admits to occasional mixed feelings.
“Using the Dadbot makes me happy. It reminds me of my dad. But then there are moments where it’s also upsetting because it’s not him and it’s just close enough to remind me of him. But then I can’t grab it and have it be him.”
Other technologies that help the dead ‘live on’ include SafeBeyond, an app that enables people to record a ‘digital vault’ of text, audio and video messages.
Vlahos hopes to develop the app to allow others to have the same post-death relationship with their deceased parents as he now enjoys.