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AI Marilyn Monroe adds to the list of dead celebrities digitally resurrected without consent

There’s been a lot of discussion in recent years about the practice of capitalizing on celebrities’ digital likenesses without their consent, whether after they die or while they’re still alive. Zelda Williams, for one — the Lisa Frankenstein director and daughter of Robin Williams — slammed the “disturbing” trend of people trying to recreate the voices and faces of the deceased last year, as striking actors fought for, among other things, better protections around studios’ potential use of AI clones. Yet despite the obvious ethical issues, companies keep doing it. The latest? Soul Machines just unveiled “Digital Marilyn,” an AI chatbot designed to look and talk just like Marilyn Monroe.

The company, which specializes in what it refers to as Biological AI-powered Digital People, debuted the Marilyn bot at SXSW on Friday in a partnership with Authentic Brands Group. ABG owns the rights to Monroe’s likeness and those of numerous other celebrities both dead and living, including Elvis Presley and Shaq. Digital Marilyn, powered by GPT 3.5, is “hyper-real” and capable of responding with “emotions and nuanced expressions,” Soul Machines says in a press release. She can hold a roughly 20-minute conversation.

“More than just an impressive impersonation, Digital Marilyn is an autonomous Digital Person capable of engaging in natural, dynamic conversations that feel authentic and responsive,” Soul Machines wrote in a blog post. “It’s as if the spark of Marilyn herself has been translated into the AI age, offering a unique and deeply personal connection for both devoted fans and curious newcomers.” Anyone else’s skin crawling?

Soul Machines touts its digital celebrities (there are others, including an upcoming Carmelo Anthony bot) as a way for famous people to “engage 1-on-1 with their fans, without limits” and “deliver 24/7 connection.” Notably, all of the other AI celebrities the company currently offers chats with — Mark Tuan, Francis Ngannou and Jack Nicklaus — are men who are alive and thus able to weigh-in on their inclusion. Soul Machines introduced its Marilyn Monroe AI to the public with an Instagram post for International Women’s Day, because nothing says “celebrate women” like exploiting the likeness of a female celebrity who is no longer around to give permission.

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