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Grief Tech avatars aim to take the sting out of death

Grief Tech avatars aim to take the sting out of death

#Grief #Tech #avatars #aim #sting #death Welcome to InNewCL, here is the new story we have for you today:

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The author is a science commentator

Some may put an extra place setting on the Christmas table or place a symbolic gift under the tree that is never unwrapped. Others may commemorate the loss of a loved one by toasting them softly or hiking a favorite trail.

But the rise of “mourning technology” could soon allow those left behind to interact more vividly with the dead. Companies like HereAfter AI build “legacy avatars” of living people that can be called up after their death to comfort the bereaved. These personalized chatbots are able to answer questions about their lives based on information they provided during their lifetime.

The trend towards AI-enhanced grief that goes beyond simply preserving the digital legacies of the deceased could ultimately change the way we commemorate our dead.

In a way, technology applications of this kind are as inevitable as death itself. We’re already chatting to avatars like Apple’s virtual assistant Siri and Amazon’s Alexa. Deep learning language models like OpenAI’s GPT-3, which generates human-like text from a command prompt, can be tailored to evoke a specific person’s manner by training the model on what that person previously said. Voice cloning can then convert that text into a sound that mimics their voice. Weaving such technologies together can create an artificial conversational intelligence or chatbot designed to speak like a loved one.

The chatbots generated by HereAfter AI are not sophisticated polymaths like Alexa, but instead offer a fairly limited repertoire of spoken responses based on personal biographies.

Charlotte Jee, a reporter for MIT Technology Review who created avatars of her living parents, described the experience of interacting with these bots as “undeniably weird.” A question to her virtual “mother” about her favorite jewelry prompted the stilted response: “Sorry, I didn’t understand that. You can try asking a different way, or move on to another topic.” However, in some carefully curated situations, it can feel more engaging than repeatedly checking voicemails.

Another company, StoryFile, is adding video to its digital offering. Managing Director, Stephen Smith, showcased StoryFile’s merchandise by showing a video avatar of his mother saying goodbye – at her own funeral. The companies charge either an upfront payment or a monthly subscription for access to the avatars.

Lucy Selman, Associate Professor of Palliative Care and End-of-Life Care at the University of Bristol in the UK and founder of the online festival Good Grief, describes grief technology as “an interesting advance”. But, she says, “before it is introduced more broadly, much more research is needed on its ethical dimensions and how and when it might be useful or even harmful in serious illness and bereavement.”

While the prospect of an ongoing relationship after death might comfort some, Selman says the technology could delay or prolong grief for others. One thing is certain, she emphasizes, that this approach “will not be for everyone, because grief is as unique as our relationships with one another”.

James Vlahos, who founded HereAfter AI in 2019 after creating a bot based on his father from footage taken before his death, said in an email that the company never creates digital replicas against someone’s will “All people who create life story avatars with HereAfter AI must give their active consent. They must also volunteer in the process of sharing memories of their lives that provide the biographical information for their avatars.”

Parents can create avatars of terminally ill children, he explained, but since users aren’t asked about their circumstances (data collection interviews with participants are generally automated), he said he doesn’t know if anyone currently fits that profile.

I wonder what my late father would have made of all this. During his lifetime he was reluctant to talk about a difficult childhood in India, a reluctance that felt like an integral part of his nature. Asking his avatar to divulge everything, even if he had previously agreed to provide the information, would somehow feel wrong.

Perhaps a chatbot that can converse convincingly across the grave is the next natural — or unnatural — step for some families. But, says Selman, who lost her own father when she was 15 and later suffered a stillbirth, “[grief tech] reminds us how important it is to prioritize conversations and relationships with loved ones before they die.”

This advice – that there is no time like the present to cherish and speak to our nearest and dearest – feels like a gift for this festive season.

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