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My favorite episode of the hit sci-fi/horror TV series Black Mirror is “Be Right Back,” which premiered 10 years ago now, and captured the alienating experience of a woman cloning her dead ex-boyfriend by using a service that analyzed his social media posts and texts to recreate his personality.
The episode seemed fantastical but just on the edge of plausible at the time in 2013 — after all, many of us were already leaving extensive digital communications trails with our smartphones and computers back then.
Today, it actually is possible, at least in digital form. A startup Delphi, founded in the US but named after the Ancient Greek fortune teller and dispenser of knowledge, is announcing $2.7M in funding and its new AI digital cloning service.
Simply upload as few as four documents containing your communications to it — and as many as thousands, including emails, chat transcripts, even YouTube videos or audio files such as podcasts or voicemails — and Delphi will create an AI chatbot that mimics, as closely as it can, your personality, manner of writing, or speaking, audibly, as of today, through a partnership with voice-cloning startup ElevenLabs.
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You can then deploy your AI clone on a website, in Slack, or even hook it up to a phone number to answer calls and engage in discussions with callers on your behalf.
Delphi also tries to recreate your unique thought processes in your clone, to the extent that it can provide what it thinks would be your response to a given prompt.
“We hope to be more optimistic than Black Mirror for sure,” said Dara Ladjevardian, founder and CEO of Delphi, in an exclusive interview with VentureBeat. “We hope to see the optimistic side of this technology rather than the fear side.”
Some big name investors are optimistic about Delphi’s work: the new funding round was led by Keith Rabois, CEO of OpenStore and general partner at Founders Fund (the famed venture firm founded by controversial VC Peter Thiel, founder of intelligence software company Palantir, backer of the lawsuit that destroyed Gawker, and who made headlines discussing the promise that young blood transplants hold to reverse aging), and joined by Lux Capital, Xfund, MVP Ventures, and SaxeCap. Other angel investors who have backed Delphi include founders of AngelList, EightSleep, and Soylent.
Rabois has already cloned himself, as well, as seen in the screenshot below.
Clone anyone, from famous figures to loved ones
Not interested in digitally cloning yourself? Delphi works on other people, too: for now, the company does not restrict a user’s ability to create clones of anyone they’d like, living or dead, without their permission.
Want to clone your ex and resume your relationship, at least the communication part of it? You can do it, provided you grab and upload samples of their writing or speaking.
Want to clone the late Steve Jobs or the still living Elon Musk? Delphi allows you to do this, too, if you extract data from the public internet, such as through interviews in news outlets or YouTube videos. Delphi has even already cloned “Oracle of Omaha” and legendary investor Warren Buffett for its internal use.
“If [Buffett] ever tells me, ‘Dara, take this down,’ I’m going to take it down, I’m going to respect him,” Ladjevardian said.
In fact, Delphi already has already used its AI software to clone a number of famous figures — Steve Jobs; Jeff Bezos, Robert Oppenheimer; Estée Lauder; philosophers including Socrates, Lao-Tzu, and Aristotle; all US presidents living and deceased; and others (Delphi’s website shows a collage of photos including magazine magnate Anna Wintour and former Chicago Bulls basketball player Michael Jordan).
While Delphi previously allowed early users access to converse with these clones in a chatbot format during a beta launch of its software, it appears they are no longer publicly available online.
As for others cloning loved ones, exes, or impersonating famous people to deceive or commit crimes, Ladjevardian admitted to VentureBeat: “We have no guardrails against that, so that is something we’re going to have to figure out at scale.”
Ladjevardian told VentureBeat that Delphi has already received a takedown request from notable physician and podcast host Peter Attia, and removed the unsanctioned AI clone of him accordingly.
The tech behind Delphi’s AI clones
Delphi’s digital cloning software began with second-generation immigrant Ladjevardian’s earnest and heartfelt desire to reconnect with his deceased grandfather, who was an entrepreneur in Iran prior to the 1979 Iranian Revolution that radically changed the government from a secular monarchy into a theocracy.
When OpenAI released its GPT-3 large language model (LLM) in the summer of 2020, Ladjevardian was working as a software engineer at C3 AI, an enterprise-focused AI software application platform company with clients in government, oil, and gas.
“I was like, ‘wow, this is really going to change things,'” Ladjevardian recollected to VentureBeat. “So I should dedicate my life to this, because I think there’s going to be a lot of opportunities here.”
Ladjevardian left his job at C3 AI and founded his first company, Friday, an AI-based shopping assistant that offered people product recommendations in a conversational format.
At the time, he was reading a book about his grandfather that he found illuminating, but Ladjevardian desperately wished he could actually converse with the man about his experiences, ask him questions, and lean on him as the mentor he’d never had growing up as a lonely, second-gen Iranian immigrant in Houston, Texas.
Taking GPT-3 and using open-source embeddings — the clusters of information that AI uses to form meanings and associations — “I created a clone of him using his book and kind of treated it as my own personal mentor as I was building out that startup,” Ladjevardian said.
The experiment worked, at least on a personal level: Ladjevardian sold the startup for a profit and moved to Miami to work for Rabois’ OpenStore, where he leaned on Rabois as a mentor and kept developing the idea and tech for digital AI clones that would ultimately lead to him creating Delphi.
Use cases and monetization
Using AI to create clones as personal mentors is a nice idea for those looking for that kind of guidance in life, but how can it scale as a business?
Ladjevardian and his employees at Delphi are convinced that there is a market for this kind of software, especially for those people who already make a living by imparting their knowledge to others — think coaches, influencers, creators, and business leaders.
“We’re focused on helping coaches, creators, experts, politicians, CEOs — people with high intellectual leverage — scale themselves and make themselves available to others,” Ladjevardian said.
Delphi is not publicly listing its pricing structures yet, as it is still tinkering and iterating with the best way to monetize its software, but Ladjevardian did say that the company is considering collecting monthly subscription payments for hosting people’s digital clones and how much usage they get out of their audience on those clones, such as how many messages the clone will send out. Adding voice capabilities and a dedicated phone would cost extra, in this scheme.
Already, over 100 individuals have created digital clones of themselves in Delphi’s private beta, including the Grammy-Award winning producer, Illmind, who’s clone offers text-based responses and general career and life guidance.
“We’re focused on capturing someone’s mind and relaying that through text and voice,” Ladjevardian explained.
Of course, Ladjevardian has also cloned himself and even had an audio conversation with his clone.
“I called myself and spoke to myself for 10 minutes and it was weirdly therapeutic,” he said.
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