AI Marilyn Monroe Debuts at SXSW, Raising Ethics Concerns

Lily Polanco Follow Mar 09, 2024 · 2 mins read
AI Marilyn Monroe Debuts at SXSW, Raising Ethics Concerns
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The legendary Marilyn Monroe made an appearance at SXSW this year, but not in the way you might expect. A digital recreation of the iconic actress powered by artificial intelligence was unveiled by Soul Machines, a company that creates “hyper-real” AI personas. This “Digital Marilyn” is designed to look, talk, and behave just like the real Marilyn Monroe, able to engage in conversations and express realistic emotions and mannerisms.

The debut of this AI Marilyn Monroe is sure to reignite debates around the ethics of digitally resurrecting deceased celebrities without their consent. Soul Machines partnered with Authentic Brands Group, the company that owns the rights to Monroe’s name, image and likeness, to create this chatbot powered by advanced language models like GPT-3.5. They claim it offers fans a “deeply personal connection” by bringing “the spark of Marilyn herself” into the AI age.

However, many will understandably feel uncomfortable with this digital capitalization on Monroe’s persona decades after her tragic death in 1962 at the age of just 36. She never had a chance to approve or deny the use of her likeness in this way. The unveiling at a major tech event feels particularly crass and exploitative when you consider Monroe’s traumatic life story.

There are also broader concerns around the emerging trend of creating AI clones and digital estates for famous figures. While still a new development, we’ve already seen everything from a “virtual human” Zinedine Zidane to plans for an AI Winston Churchill. Soul Machines’ other celebrity chatbots include boxer Francis Ngannou and golfer Jack Nicklaus, who are at least still alive to consent.

Proponents argue these AI personas allow stars to “engage 1-on-1 with fans, without limits” and forge “24/7 connections.” Skeptics see it as a brazen IP grab that robs individuals of their right to control their own likeness and brand, even after death. There are also risks that bad actors could use the tech for nefarious purposes like fraud or misinformation.

The Marilyn Monroe unveiling feels especially tone-deaf, happening on International Women’s Day of all dates. Monroe’s victimization and exploitation throughout her life is well-documented. Is digitally reviving her for commercial gain without her permission really the best way to honor her legacy? The ethics of this technology remain murky at best as we enter a new frontier of blurring the lines between humanity and artificial intelligence.

Written by Lily Polanco Follow
Junior News Writer @