Star Trek: The Videobot Generation

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A digital doppelgänger of Star Trek’s original star will let fans chat with him — possibly well beyond his lifetime.
What’s new: AI startup StoryFile built a lifelike videobot of actor William Shatner, best known for playing Captain James T. Kirk of the Starship Enterprise in the 1960’s-vintage Star Trek television series. The Shatbot is scheduled to go online in May.
How it works: The company honed its approach by building avatars of Holocaust survivors, a socially distanced interactive Santa Claus, and a platform that lets people talk with scientists about climate change.

  • StoryFile recorded hours of Shatner, who recently turned 90, answering questions while volumetric cameras captured his image in three dimensions.
  • The volumetric picture was shot in front of a green screen, enabling the team to isolate Shatner’s image and display it against a living-room setting.
  • The team trained a proprietary language model called Conversa to associate questions and answers. When a user asks a question, the model will find a closely related answer and serves it up.

Behind the news: Shatner imagines that the system might enable his descendents to interact with him after his death. Other companies are also using chatbots to help people feel connected to departed loved ones.

  • Last December, Microsoft was awarded a patent for a bot that re-creates a specific person by processing their text messages, audio, videos, and other digital remains.
  • The creator of Replika, a chatbot for people experiencing loneliness, trained the original system using old texts from a friend who had died in a car accident.

Why it matters: Technological replicas of human beings are a long-standing science fiction trope, and few stories have shaped our vision of the future as profoundly as Star Trek. A lifelike avatar of William Shatner is a fitting — and fun — way to celebrate that legacy.
We’re thinking: We support free Enterprise.

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