AI image generators and enhancers have all sorts of applications. Some are scientifically significant, some are plain fun, and some are downright strange and unsettling. Such is the latest trend of using AI to recreate dead people.
Undertakers in China have started offering a new service that uses AI to generate life-like avatars of the deceased, allowing their family to “communicate” with them. And it’s nothing fancy, just Midjourney and ChatGPT that we can all use for the same purpose if we want – which never crossed my mind, honestly!
The new service emerged ahead of the Qing Ming Festival, a holiday devoted to remembering and honoring the deceased. As The Straits Times reports, some funeral companies included the service of recreating the deceased’s “personality, appearance, voice and even memories” using Midjourney and ChatGPT. This way, their living loved ones could have the chance to relive moments with them, or perhaps get to say goodbye they never had the chance to.
Some Chinese bloggers shared their experiences with this technology. They said that it let them have closure and say their last goodbyes. I can’t say it doesn’t make sense – we all do what we think will help us process the grief after losing a loved one. But there could be some downsides to this approach, too.
How I deal with grief
We’ve all done some weird and seemingly nonsensical stuff to help us deal with grief. AI is just one of them, but let me get personal briefly before I jump to that.
I’ve lost quite a few people dear to me over the years. Those I miss most often are my best friend and my maternal grandma. I still write occasional letters to this friend when I can’t bear how much I miss him. My granny taught me how to crochet as a kid, so I reminded myself of it. I now feel somehow connected to her while I crochet, thinking how proud she would be if she could see how much I’ve progressed. All of this may seem too sappy or too nonsensical to you – but it works for me. And of course, all of it was backed up by psychotherapy.
Why AI is a double-edged sword (and why I can’t use it to process grief)
If you’ve watched Black Mirror, this might have reminded you of the episode Be Right Back. It was my first thought, although that episode was far more weird and grim. Anyhow, I can see how AI recreation of your loved ones can help you process grief and get the closure that you need. But I can also see why it can be dangerous.
A company Shanghai Fushouyun started offering its “AI-funeral” services in January 2022, and its chief executive Yu Hao explained it well:
“We hope to let the living understand that death is not the end of life. People want to use AI to recover the deceased because they need to release their emotions. But this will be a problem if the act of ‘reviving a loved one’ makes people drown in their emotions instead.”
AI-generated videos of your loved ones might be too overwhelming. At least, that’s my personal experience with AI. Perhaps you remember MyHeritage’s Deep Nostalgia, a tool that turns photos of your loved ones into animations. Even without the “communication” part, I found it too unsettling and overwhelming to see my dead grandma’s face move around as if she were alive. Add the deceased person’s thoughts, voice, and other traits… I personally couldn’t stand it.
Another danger is that you could slide deep into the “communication” with the deceased loved one, especially if the pain and grief are fresh. This could lead to shutting down the real world and prolonging your grief instead of helping you reduce it.
But as I said, we all have different coping mechanisms. I’m not judging the AI one, I just think it’s not my cup of tea. And if you decide to try it out, keep the potential dangers in mind and be careful with it.
[via Digital Trends]