Artificial intelligence (AI) could lead to the rise of "ghostbots" where digital reincarnations of the dead haunt and scam us online, boffins have warned.
A "ghostbot" could be made from technology including chatbots, deepfakes (AI-generated fake videos) or holographs that can replicate the voice, face and even personality of a dead person using data from social media.
And experts have warned that the lack of data protection laws in the UK could be a problem.
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They said that while "ghostbots" are not likely to cause physical harm, they can cause emotional distress and economic harm to bereaved families grieving their loved ones.
It is feared that people will copy celebrities like Kanye West, who made a hologram of his ex-wife Kim’s late father Robert Kardashian, and use this technology for harmful purposes.
Kanye gifted the hologram to Kim in 2020. It looked and sounded like her late father.
But greater societal awareness of "ghostbots" and a "do not bot me" clause in wills and other contracts could prevent people from being digitally reincarnated without permission, according to a research titled Governing Ghostbots from Queen’s University Belfast, Aston Law School and Newcastle University Law School.
Dr Marisa McVey, of Queen’s University Belfast, said: "'Ghostbots' lie at the intersection of many different areas of law, such as privacy and property, and yet there remains a lack of protection for the deceased’s personality, privacy, or dignity after death.
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She said: "While it is not thought that 'ghostbots' could cause physical harm, the likelihood is that they could cause emotional distress and economic harm, particularly impacting upon the deceased’s loved ones and heirs."
She added that in the UK privacy and data protection laws do not extend to heirs after death therefore it’s "unclear who might have the power to bring back our digital persona after we die."
Dr McVey added that in addition to more formal legislation, an increased understanding of the phenomenon of "ghostbots" could help people to protect their data.
The doctor addded: "We also suggest that in addition to legal protections, greater societal awareness of the phenomenon of 'ghostbots', education on digital legacies and cohesive protection across different jurisdictions is crucial to ensure that this does not happen without our permission."
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