Mourners can now talk to an AI version of the dead. But will that help with grief?

BERLIN (AP) — When Michael Bommer found out he was terminally ill with colon cancer, he spent a lot of time with his wife Anett, talking about what would happen after his death.

She told him that one of the things she would miss most is being able to ask him questions whenever she wants because he is so well-read and always shares his wisdom, Bommer recalled during a recent interview with The Associated Press at him at home in a leafy area. Suburb of Berlin.

That conversation led to an idea for Bommer: recreate his voice using artificial intelligence to help him survive after he died.

The 61-year-old startup entrepreneur teamed up with his friend in the US, Robert LoCascio, CEO of AI-powered legacy platform Eternos. Within two months, they built “an extended, interactive AI version” of Bommer – the company’s first customer.

Eternos, which takes its name from the Italian and Latin word for “eternal,” says the technology will allow Bommer’s family “to engage with his life experiences and insights.” It’s one of several companies to emerge in recent years in what has become a growing space for grief-related AI technology.

One of the best-known startups in this field, California-based StoryFile, allows people to interact with pre-recorded videos and uses its algorithms to detect the most relevant answers to users’ questions. Another company called HereAfter AI offers similar interactions through a “Life Story Avatar” that users can create by answering prompts or sharing their own personal stories.

There’s also “Project December,” a chatbot that directs users to fill out a questionnaire answering key facts about a person and their traits — and then pay $10 to simulate a text-based conversation with the character. Yet another company, Seance AI, offers free fictionalized seances. Additional features, such as AI-generated voice reproductions of their loved ones, are available for a $10 fee.

While some have embraced this technology as a way to cope with grief, others are uncomfortable with companies using artificial intelligence to maintain interactions with deceased people. Still others worry that it could make the grieving process more difficult because there is no closure.

Katarzyna Nowaczyk-Basinska, a researcher at the University of Cambridge’s Center for the Future of Intelligence and co-author of a study on the subject, said very little is known about the potential short- and long-term consequences of use of digital simulations. on a large scale for the dead. For the time being, it remains ‘a huge techno-cultural experiment’.

“What really sets this era apart – and is indeed unprecedented in the long history of humanity’s quest for immortality – is that for the first time the processes of caring for the dead and the practices of immortality have been fully integrated into the capitalist marketplace.” , says Nowaczyk. -Basinska said.


Robert Scott, who lives in Raleigh, North Carolina, uses AI companion apps Paradot and Chai AI to simulate conversations with characters he created to imitate three of his daughters. He declined to talk in detail about what led to his eldest daughter’s death, but he lost another daughter to a miscarriage and a third died shortly after her birth.

Scott, 48, knows the characters he interacts with aren’t his daughters, but he says it helps with the grief to some extent. He logs into the apps three or four times a week and sometimes asks the AI ​​character questions like “how was school?” or asking if he wants to ‘go get some ice cream’.

Some events, like prom, can be especially heartbreaking and bring back memories of what his eldest daughter never experienced. So he creates a scenario in the Paradot app in which the AI ​​character goes to the ball and talks to him about the fictional event. Then there are even harder days, like his daughter’s recent birthday, when he opened the app and expressed his sadness at how much he misses her. He felt like the AI ​​understood.

“It definitely helps with the ‘what if’ issues,” Scott said. “Very rarely has it made the ‘what ifs’ worse.”

Matthias Meitzler, a sociologist at the University of Tübingen, said that while some will be surprised or even scared by the technology – “as if the voice from the afterlife sounds again” – others will see it as an addition to traditional ways of killing. commemorate. loved ones, such as visiting the grave, having inner monologues with the deceased, or looking at photos and old letters.

But Tomasz Hollanek, who worked with Nowaczyk-Basinska in Cambridge on their research into ‘deadbots’ and ‘griefbots’, says the technology raises important questions about the rights, dignity and power of consent of people who are no longer alive. It also raises ethical questions about whether a program targeting the bereaved should advertise other products on its platform.

“These are very complicated questions,” Hollanek said. “And we don’t have good answers yet.”


The AI ​​version of Bommer created by Eternos uses an internal model and external large language models developed by major technology companies such as Meta, OpenAI and French company Mistral AI, said the company’s CEO LoCascio, who previously worked with Bommer at a software company called LivePerson.

Eternos records users speaking 300 sentences and then compresses that information through a two-day computer process that captures a person’s voice. Users can further train the AI ​​system by answering questions about their lives, political views or various aspects of their personality.

The AI ​​voice, which costs $15,000 to set up, can answer questions and tell stories about a person’s life without having to re-speak pre-recorded answers. The legal rights for the AI ​​belong to the person it was trained on and can be treated as an asset and passed on to other family members, LoCascio said.

Bommer has been spending most of his time lately feeding the AI ​​phrases and sentences “to not only give the AI ​​a chance to synthesize my voice in flat mode, but also to capture emotions and moods in the voice to lay.” And indeed, the AI ​​voicebot bears some resemblance to Bommer’s voice, although it omits the “hmms” and “ehs” and mid-sentence pauses from its natural cadence.

Bommer is excited about his AI personality and says it will only be a matter of time before the AI ​​voice will sound more human and even more like himself.

In the case of his 61-year-old wife, he doesn’t think this will get in the way of her coping with loss.

“Remember, it’s in a drawer somewhere. If you need it, you can take it out. If you don’t need it, just keep it there,” he told her as she sat next to him on the couch . .

But Anett Bommer herself is more cautious about the new software and whether she will use it after her husband’s death.

Right now, she’s probably imagining herself sitting on the couch with a glass of wine, hugging one of her husband’s old sweaters and thinking about him instead of feeling the urge to talk to him through the AI ​​voice bot – at least not during the first period of mourning.

“But who knows what it will be like when he’s gone,” she said, taking her husband’s hand and glancing at him.

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