A new application has been found by funeral directors in China. Using simply a photo, voice recording and pre-existing AI machine learning technology, funeral undertakers are able to generate life-like avatars of people who have died. This will allow people the chance to experience communicating with their loved ones after they are long gone.
Artificial Intelligence (AI) Has surged into the popular consciousness as of late, with a veritable multiverse of applications and possibilities, the opportunities truly seem endless.
Technology with this purpose, although cutting-edge to say the very least, is not as new as most may believe. After all, the concept of speaking to the dead for numerous ends has been a mainstay in popular culture.
James Vlahos who lost his father to cancer in 2017, recorded several instances of his father’s stories while he was alive and managed to channel these into a chatbot which would eventually prove to be the catalyst for his product “Hereafter AI”. Not only does this programme allow someone to communicate with a phenomenally life-like replica of a loved one but enables them to “live on” sort of speak in a “life-story avatar”.
The very recent leaps and bounds being achieved in the field of AI of late, revisiting this possibility seemed like an extremely exciting avenue to pursue. Coinciding with the QingMing Festival, funeral companies are taking the abilities of some seminally influential AI technologies such as ChatGPT, and AI generator Midjourney to not only resynthesise a deceased loved one but create new experiences from the replication.
In many ways generating a profoundly immersive experience. These incredibly powerful technologies can mimic the deceased’s personality, appearance, voice and draw on memories so that individuals can experience their loved ones well after they have departed.
A fitting technology to be showcased for the QingMing festival which is also known as tomb-sweeping day, which falls on the 5th of April this year. Observed by ethnic Chinese across the world who pay their respects to their ancestors and loved ones by cleaning their tombs and placing offerings.
The first funeral company to conduct a funeral using AI technology was Shanghai Fushouyun in January of 2022. A company that typically offered digital funeral services, with this advancement seemingly like a logical step forward.
Many other companies have tried their hand at implementing the technologies since and claim to have had positive feedback on their AI integration. One must wonder however, how far can this technology be taken and what should be considered on an ethical basis.
In analysing the longer visible effects of hereafter AI, a few possible issues can be seen, although perhaps not tangibly, coming into fruition. Such as discovering information that was not shared while the subject of the avatar was still alive which could lead to a confused reaction even leading to resentment.
Technology like this can not be seen to mitigate grief or replace the true presence of a loved one. Only to simply connect the dead to those who miss their true company as well as, interestingly, giving those who did not meet them while they were alive a chance to experience their presence. As Vlahos described it;
One of the fears of death is that the person slips away, that the memories slip away, that it all becomes faded and sepia-toned and vague. This type of legacy AI technology doesn’t ease the sting of death, but what it does do is provide this much more rich, vivid and interactive way to remember.
As with any technological advancement that affects humans in such a sensitive nature, any and all issues should be carefully and ethnically considered.
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