Marketing and media publisher The Drum has announced it will publish a new interview with David Ogilvy during the Cannes Lions advertising festival this June. Ogilvy, often described as “the father of advertising,” died in 1999, but will be represented by the AI engine IBM Watson, which will be fed Ogilvy’s books and videos so that it can answer on his behalf.

The London-based company is accepting questions to test out the AI in preparation for the interview. In addition to generating the Ogilvy interview, IBM Watson will guest edit the entire magazine.

“There are few as highly regarded as David Ogilvy and rightly so. The work he left behind is still incredible to this day,” Stephen Lepitak, editor of The Drum, told the Innovation Group. “As a result we wanted to see if AI could help drive insight from Ogilvy for our readers and the industry around the world while paying tribute to the great man in turn.”

This is not the first attempt at bringing a deceased celebrity back to life with technology. Advertisers have digitally re-animated Bruce Lee, Marilyn Monroe and most recently, Audrey Hepburn. At the Coachella music festival in 2012, a full-sized hologram of rapper 2pac famously stunned crowds as he rapped and moved onstage.

These earlier efforts, however, confined themselves mostly to visual representations of the deceased. Now, with the development of AI, data analytics, and natural language processing, tech companies are trying to make the dead speak, as well. For example, Google is currently developing artificial intelligence that can write in the voice of Shakespeare.

Hanson Robotics has also physicalized AI with Bina48, a social robot that, according to its creators, points the way toward a future in which people will be able to recreate an individual’s consciousness digitally. For now, Bina48 is loaded with over 100 hours of audio data representing the memories, values and beliefs of a real, living person named Bina Aspen.

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Photo credit: Robert Koier

The idea of resurrecting the dead with technology is not as far-fetched as it may sound. In March 2015, Google was awarded a patent for downloadable robot personalities that can be customized based on user preferences. The patent states that the personalities “may be programmed to take on the personality of real-world people” such as deceased loved ones or celebrities.

These futuristic scenarios are also being explored in film and television. An episode of Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror depicts a future where AI clones can be built to embody the traits of lost loved ones based on their social media posts.

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Be Right Back episode from Black Mirror by Charlie Brooker

Lepitak, editor of The Drum, agrees that we’re headed in this general direction. Reviving the dead through technology “will be possible with the amount of data people will leave behind through their online footprints and social media messaging,” he said.

These technologies, which are further explored in our forthcoming Control Shift report, have the potential to offer consumers extraordinary experiences. Brands can use the latest technologies to connect with consumers, revive idols and tell stories in exciting new ways. They must approach these technologies with care however, as they can fall into an “uncanny valley” where humanness isn’t quite captured, potentially leading to feelings of revulsion and unease. While resurrecting those who have passed certainly polarizes audiences, when done correctly, the results can be enchanting.

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