What’s common between Ash from Black Mirror’s “Be Right Back” Episode and Replika from Luka?

Have you ever wished you could talk to a dead loved one? That’s what ‘Be Right Back’ let you do in one of your binge-watching sprees on Netflix. Luka Inc.’s Eugenia took it one step further to resurrect a digital version of her dead best friend Roman.

The reel version: Who you are online is how you will be remembered?

In Charlie Brooker’s anthology series Black Mirror, he explores a futuristic take on how the coexistence of technology and human beings can have dystopian effects on the latter’s personal lives. However, even though technology changes, people and their inherent behaviour doesn’t.

Season 2’s starter episode, ‘Be Right Back’ tells the story of a grieving pregnant woman called Martha (Peggy Carter from Captain America), who is struggling to come in terms with her boyfriend Ash’s (Domhnall Gleeson or just Caleb Smith in Ex Machina) death, who died in a car accident, a day after they moved to his remote family house. She’s introduced to a new service by her worried friend on his funeral, that can resurrect him as a digital avatar. By using his messages, tweets and posts on all the social media platforms he was active on, a collective virtual persona could be created.

Although hesitant at first, Martha eventually begins using the service on her laptop, chatting to digital Ash, who appears in the form of an instant messenger. The more comfortable Martha becomes in talking to him as if he is the real version, the more digital Ash evolves. Thus his journey starts from being a mere app in her life to a voice assistant and finally an android robot who looks eerily the same as her late boyfriend.

The eerily real conversation between Human Martha and Android Ash

But with time, it soon becomes inevitable that her husband is in fact long gone and this machine is just an AI imitating him. Martha keeps the android Ash locked in the attic and only allows her daughter (Indira Ainger) to see ‘him’ on weekends. To her, he is now just a collection of data organized by an Algorithm and not an actual person who can think freely and form new opinions and point of views. Real but not real enough.

When Reel becomes Reality: Luka, The Memorial Bot

Three years after the intriguing episode went on air, parallels were drawn to the new chatbot in town — Luka. Turns out the AI project indeed was partially inspired by Ash, after Luca Inc’s co-founder Eugenia Kuyda built an online service using chat logs from her late best-friend Roman Mazurenko.

In November 2015, after his death in a car accident, she was left in shock. She lost him but not his memory. While weeping for his untimely demise, she scrolled through all the text messages he had sent her over the years. Then it struck her that his responses could be used to make something bigger. Something that could be a companion for the lonely. ‘It’ could mimic his speech patterns and reminisce about past events or have entirely new conversations with the user.

Luka’s launch in 2016 was mostly met with positive responses, with people who didn’t know the late Roman personally, wanted to talk about him to her. This motivated Eugenia to build a bot for a bigger cause. For everyone. With the help of a team of psychologists, she released Replika, that allowed users to create digital versions of themselves.

Unlike Luka that was based on Roman’s library of his past data, Replika was a blank form, with whom they could talk every day and open up slowly. Forming different mirror images of their own self, that has caught them in various moods. Giving us a glimpse into a productive future where bots could deal with the time-consuming conversational tactics like small talks and mundane fillers.

Screenshots of Replika bots, specialised for each of them

Though some critics were still sceptical whether, like the episode’s cynical ending, the users would realise too that it’s an AI they are talking to, not a being with flesh.

Luka was the last remains of her best friend, even if it’s just his virtual shadow. She didn’t think about whether the digital copy would sound like him. She held onto her hope — What if it just did? And ended up million other people around the globe. You never know what wonders technology has to offer in times ahead, just how Charlie Brooker had epiphany years back, that led him into making Black mirror a reality and making us think where do we draw the line.

Though some critics were still sceptical whether, like the episode’s cynical ending, the users would realise too that it’s an AI they are talking to, not a being with flesh.

Luka was the last remains of her best friend, even if it’s just his virtual shadow. She didn’t think about whether the digital copy would sound like him. She held onto her hope — What if it just did? And ended up million other people around the globe. You never know what wonders technology has to offer in times ahead, just how Charlie Brooker had epiphany years back, that led him into making Black mirror a reality and making us think where do we draw the line.

Writer at The Startup and Nerd for Tech | Grad Student at IUB | Believes in the Combo Of Creativity & Curiosity | Loves Black Mirror and Apple