2024-03-18
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AI

Your AI Afterlife

There's a whole new industry that's building virtual version of people based on the data they've left behind. Being able to keep some memory of your loved ones alive is profound, but is this actually a good thing?

Your AI Afterlife
IN THIS ARTICLE:

Your AI Afterlife

Cleo’s personality is hard to miss. Over the years it’s been described as anything from delightful  to “the financial version of Gordon Ramsay”. 

That’s on purpose though. We want to create an experience of your money that feels like you’re talking to a friend. Everything is simple, easy to understand, has your best interests in mind etc. 

And the results are pretty clear, people really like her personality. (In fact, you’ve sent her over 2,000 marriage proposals)

So it’s possible for people to feel some connection to a financial assistant, but in the field of “digital afterlife” things are going next level.

As chatbots are becoming increasingly realistic in their interactions, they’re being used to simulate a digital afterlife and recreate memories of departed loved ones.

And it's called the digital afterlife industry.

The digital afterlife industry is going mainstream

Today's digital afterlife industry allows the construction of virtual models of the deceased using the data they left behind. 

Take the software company HereAfter AI, which harnesses AI algorithms and natural language processing to develop an interactive chatbot that mimics real-life conversations. 

The app is part of a growing trend where software tries to portray the personalities of those who have passed away, providing comfort and leading to a range of moral and ethical concerns.

Apps designed to mimic individuals who have passed away also focus on replicating their personalities.

A distinctive aspect of HereAfter AI is its capability to replicate the deceased person's voice. 

The AI can generate a realistic voice simulation by examining their voice and speech mannerisms. The feature allows loved ones to hear the deceased's voice again, supposedly fostering a more profound sense of connection. 

The chatbot learns from an individual's digital legacy, such as social media, emails, and other online interactions. The more information it gathers, the more refined and accurate its responses become. 

It’s not just start ups getting involved in the afterlife field. Large tech companies are taking notice too. 

Microsoft has developed a patent for software that creates chatbots modeled after specific individuals, living or deceased that scrapes social platforms and email.

But just because we have the technology to do this…should we?

Ethical concerns surrounding AI and grief

Bringing back a loved one through AI may be enticing, but it presents ethical challenges. Relying on a chatbot for comfort could interfere with the natural grieving process. 

Some grief counselors have expressed concern that individuals using these chatbots may bypass the process of confronting and processing their emotions.

There's also the issue of how well the chatbots can really imitate a person. They might seem to talk like the person who passed away, but it's important to remember that they are based only on the data they have.

 After all, there’s no guarantee that the chatbot's answers will genuinely represent the person's real personality.

The financial cost of such services can be high too.

 DeepBrain AI, a company from South Korea, offers a unique service for remembering loved ones. For a price between €10,000 and €20,000, they make a digital version of a person using a seven-hour video and interview session.

They also offer a 30-minute session where you can see and talk to this digital twin on a big 400-inch screen with great sound in a special room they call a "memorial showroom."

The moral issues of the AI afterlife are explored in the recently released documentary “Eternal You,” which probes into this intriguing use of AI.

The filmmakers speak with the users who find comfort in such apps, critics who see danger in them, and the tech developers behind the apps. 

Sherry Turkle, a professor at MIT who studies sociology and psychology, warns that even though these digital versions of people who have passed away might feel comforting at first, they could become something people rely on too much and make it harder to deal with the loss.

The tricky ethical questions about the digital afterlife are making serious scholars pay attention to the industry.

From griefbots to generative ghosts 

Meredith Ringel Morris, leading the Human-AI Interaction Research at Google DeepMind, and Jed R. Brubaker, an Associate Professor at the University of Colorado Boulder, recently authored a significant report funded by Google. 

Their work, titled "Generative Ghosts: Anticipating Benefits and Risks of AI Afterlives," delves into the implications of AI in creating digital afterlives. Particularly “generative ghost” or AI versions of deceased

individuals that can mimic human behaviors like remembering and planning.

They aim to guide the safe and beneficial use of AI afterlives, considering their impact on individuals and society, and to shape the development of these technologies.

The paper reviews the history of technologies used by mourners to connect with the deceased, highlighting issues of privacy and consent. 

For instance, a chatbot named "Fredbot" was created to represent a man's father using his actual quotes. While an engineer developed an app called "Roman" to memorialize her best friend using their shared text messages. 

So while these issues might not be new, the explosion and ubiquity of generative AI is bringing them mainstream.

Who knows, maybe one day in the not too distant future we’ll be making plans for our digital afterlife.

But in the meantime, there’s plenty to think about now. Like your budget for the month.

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