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Captain Kirk meets AI as William Shatner turns to digital

If you’ve always wanted to ask questions to William Shatner, you might soon get your chance.

For his 90th birthday, the man that became Captain Kirk in TV’s Star Trek is boldly going where no other Star Trek captain has gone before: he’s becoming a digital memory for you to eventually talk to.

It’s a concept available in an app called “StoryFile”, that aims to capture recordings of people and connect it with artificial intelligence for you to talk to. The idea behind StoryFile is a little more complicated than that, with recorded conversations connecting with AI and a voice chat system to let you talk with digital versions of real people.

Already, the technology is available on iOS in something of a test state, with an app allowing you to ask questions to Nobel Prize winning scientist Eric Kandel and ISS Astronaut Terry Virts, an astronaut that has also weighed in on another recent tech concept, the Vaonis Vespera digital telescope. However StoryFile is a little different.

Rather than look to the stars, the concept means a collection of conversations are linked together, with a microphone button allowing you to talk to the people inside the frame. You can ask them questions like you normally would, and even offer simple greetings — hey, how are you? — but most of the questions are typically going to centre about things they know about.

With Eric Kandel, you can ask “is it hard to be a scientist?”, and you’ll hear something that may answer the question, but also will likely delve into Kandel’s history. Ask Terry Virts about the fear factor of space — “is it scary to go into space” — and you’ll hear about what can drive fear when you’re up there, and what astronauts do. Ask Larry Bacow, President of Harvard University “how hard is it to get into Harvard?”, and you’ll get an answer that says the university is looking for people who are creative and take initiative, among other things.

StoryFile in use

The point of all of this is to provide some lasting memory and a way to talk to these people digitally, either now or when they go, though it can come across as very sci-fi, as if it emerged from Black Mirror or I, Robot.

For William Shatner, it means he’ll essentially be able to talk to fans, family, and friends in a digital way, allowing anyone who’s never had the opportunity to hear from the man who is and was Captain Kirk (before Chris Pine, anyway).

“This is for all my children and all my children’s children and all my children’s loved ones and all the loved ones of the loved ones,” said William Shatner. “That’s my gift to you down through time.”

There are some catches to the system, though: ask any digital recreation “how do you define love”, and you’ll be greeted with a response saying they can’t answer that, and to try asking something else. Not every question will be able to relate to something you ask, and so much like how James Cromwell’s character in I, Robot asks Will Smith’s to phrase his questions better, you may have to here as well.

Some of what you ask will go through to the keeper, however, and the artificial intelligence will connect the right video with the right sentiment, meaning you get a semblance of a conversation, even if it’s hardly one taken from the Holodock from Star Trek.

William Shatner recording his StoryFile digital presence.

“At StoryFile, we believe every person’s story matters,” said Stephen Smith, Co-Founder of StoryFile. Stephen Smith.

“Who better to show the world how StoryFile Life works than, William Shatner, a man the world knows for stretching our imaginations about the future and life in this universe and beyond. A man who has always generously shared the highs and lows with us, and who has mastered the art of storytelling.”

StoryFile’s service, StoryFile Life Premium, with William Shatner’s digital equivalent is set to be available later in the year.

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