Jul 10, 2023

A New Medium for Communicating With the Dead: AI and Chatbots

From help writing obituaries to texting with a simulation of a deceased loved one, the grief technology industry is on the rise. 

Carrie Rowell still misses the 7 a.m. phone calls from her father, who died six years ago.

He would use her nickname, “Toots,” or ask, “Hey, babe, how’s your morning going?”

“I would give anything to hear that again,” Rowell said.

But interacting with a version of a departed loved one is now more accessible than ever, thanks to generative language models such as ChatGPT. Trained on a deceased relative’s words — from a digital journal, videos or other content — a chatbot can reply to a prompt or question from a survivor with what it predicts the relative would say.

This might sound like the episode of the science-fiction series “Black Mirror” that explored a woman’s use of technology to create a virtual version of her dead boyfriend, with disturbing implications. But this is the very real way technology is helping people deal — or maybe not deal — with death.

Funeral homes already are adding AI-powered obituary-writing services to the digital memorial webpages they create. An interactive app, HereAfter AI, lets a user preserve photos and memories for family members to access after the user has died. The Project December website offers to “simulate the dead” in a text-based conversation with anyone, “including someone who is no longer living.”

You can read more in an article by Todd Nelson published in the Star Tribune web site at: