The rise of “grief tech”: AI is being used to bring loved ones back from the dead

AI-powered technology is being used to develop chatbot avatars of deceased relatives to preserve their memories and ease their grief.


In 2016, James Vlahos learned his father was dying of terminal lung cancer.

Realizing that their time together was running out, Vlahos rushed to record his father’s life, trying to collect memories while he could. We feature everything from his childhood memories to his favorite sayings, songs, and jokes.

Once transcribed, these recordings filled 200 single-spaced pages.

“It was a great resource, but it was an inactive resource, and I was craving something interactive. So I spent nearly a year building Dadbot, a replica of my father’s chatbot. ,” says Vlahos.

This “Dadbot” was able to recreate a father’s story through text messages, audio, images, and video, creating an interactive experience that emulates the unique nuances of an individual. of Vlahos’ father.

This artificial version could never replace Vlahos’ biological father, but it did give him some comfort and a more visceral way to remember him in the form of an AI afterlife.

It also inspired Vlahos to start HereAfter AI, a US-based company that allows people to upload their memories and turn them into “life story avatars” that they can communicate with friends and family. became.

Unlike a dusty photo album or a dormant Facebook profile, it’s a way to archive a piece of yourself or a loved one and actually bring it back to life.

digital immortality

Loss is one of the most difficult human experiences, and in the digital age of preservation, dealing with loss has become increasingly complex. Fragments of people are forever crystallized in Whatsapp chats, Instagram images, last tweets, and Facebook Memories features.

Some people find it comforting to have access again to the online archives of those they lost.

In 2021, a writer named Sherry Turner went viral by tweeting about seeing her mother’s house on Google Maps Street View, which took her back in time to 2009. She said, “The light is on in her bedroom. It’s still her home. She’s still alive.”

Some, like freelance writer Joshua Barbeau, are experimenting with more advanced techniques in an attempt to bring the dead back to life. San Francisco Chronicle article – A website called Project December trained an AI chatbot to impersonate his late fiancée, Jessica.

But there’s only so much you can do with a person’s digital remains, and while their static profile is a gateway to nostalgia, it’s ultimately empty and flat. An abandoned house where time has stopped.

“We share a lot about ourselves on social media, but often it’s very specific pieces, and it’s hard to sit down with your own personal biographer and find out how your life really is.” It’s not the same process of going back and sharing what made you the person you are,” Vlahos told Euronews Next.

Instead of using the digital footprints people leave behind; ethical difficulties HereAfter AI’s model relies solely on consent from users, who must opt-in to be interviewed and can choose with whom they share their “life story avatars.”

“For our particular application, we really want it to be accurate and true. We can’t have the AI ​​make up something that’s not true to the person. Because it can be an experience,” Vlahos said.

The response so far has been positive, with some people being moved by hearing the voices of loved ones once again, and some people learning stories about their parents they had never heard before.

“The ability to bring families closer together or expose information that doesn’t come up in everyday conversation can be very meaningful and gratifying to people.”


The future of “grief tech”

Preserving memories and passing on heirlooms is an innate human desire evident in everything from ancient artifacts to architecture, so new ways technology companies are advancing and improving this process No wonder you’re looking for .

Last year, an 87-year-old woman attended her own funeral in the UK thanks to a startup called StoryFile. StoryFile, like HereAfter AI, records video and audio before a person’s death and makes it interactive with the power of conversation. AI and holographic avatars.

Especially the explosion Chat GPT, a powerful chatbot created by OpenAI, is accelerating the development of other “grief technologies”, including integration into the Metaverse’s “live forever” mode. This is a project by Somnium Space, a company that hopes to create a digital “you” that can stay alive. Immortal within the Metaverse (this concept is not yet fully defined).

In its current form, HereAfter AI’s technology is based strictly on retrieving what people record, but in the future it will leverage large-scale language models like ChatGPT to improve conversational abilities. I would like to strengthen it. However, information remains limited. Given the.

“You can’t talk freely about so many things, but your knowledge is also limited, so you won’t randomly give out information to who-knows on the internet.”


This technology is not limited to grief and loss. Today, it may still be used to document purely personal thoughts, or to convey difficult conversations or secrets.

“It’s valuable when people are still alive. Avatars don’t have to die to have some purpose,” Vlahos said.

Is this a healthy coping mechanism for us?

While these AI avatars can certainly be beneficial to the grieving process and provide comfort during turbulent times, they also run the risk of causing us to hold on to the past and not be able to move forward and grow.

“There is evidence from multiple studies that proximity searching occurs. [behaviours aimed at restoring a closeness with the person who died] In fact, it is associated with poorer mental health,” Dr Kirsten Smith, a clinical research fellow at the University of Oxford, told Euronews Next.

“Proximity-seeking behavior can prevent someone from developing a new identity without the deceased person or prevent them from forming new, meaningful relationships. It can also prevent someone from developing a new, meaningful relationship without the person who has passed away. “It can be a way to avoid loss, which is an important part of adapting to loss,” she said.


As with everything in life, moderation is key, and there’s no harm in and of itself in leaving behind mementos that you can look back on, whether it’s a physical object or a digital avatar. It’s the frequency and intensity of your relationship with them that can potentially cause problems. problem.

“We all want to feel close to our loved ones after we die, and this technology could make that possible. [show] If properly controlled empirical studies prove it is harmless, it could be an exciting way to memorialize and remember loved ones. ”

Vlahos also questions whether concerns that this type of technology will hinder people’s progress are entirely justified.

“I don’t think moving forward should mean forgetting someone or having a memory of them that becomes so faded and dull. So if you have a richer, more present memory of someone, “If there’s a way to have a high-fidelity memory, I think that’s a good thing,” he said.

No matter where this technology takes us, dead or alive, perhaps most importantly, before we become trash and pixels, we will be able to take our fragile and fleeting moments with our loved ones. It’s a reminder to make the most of the present.


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