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AI helping people recreate deceased loved ones

By Michael Hoffman
Image: Alena Ivochkina/iStock

Is it the same, one wonders.

“Well, I’m off now – I’ll see you tonight?”

“Okay, have a good day! You haven’t forgotten anything?”

Home for dinner. “What a day, what a day! This happened, that happened, it’s more than I can bear, honestly!”

“Oh, come! Don’t be discouraged! We all have our bad days! Tomorrow will be better, you’ll see.” A soothing word, a cheering smile – such are the joys of domestic life – vulnerable, alas, to death, and in the conversation imagined here, he who sees her off and offers encouragement is dead. Coping with bereavement, says Josei Seven (May 9-16) is not, in these days of artificial intelligence and computer graphics, what it used to be.

“Deceased AI,” little known in Japan but on its way as ripples from abroad extend outward, is changing our relationship with the beloved dead. The deepest inroads are in China and the U.S. A TBS News Dig report last month on “Deceased AI business” in China drew more than 2,000 comments, mostly positive, many expressing eager anticipation – naturally; visiting the deceased’s grave is a solace of sorts but what’s being offered here is a quasi- resurrection. The Chinese entrepreneur who started it now serves 1,000-odd clients – and he’s only one provider among 10 or so.

From old photographs, letters, recordings if any and reminiscences of survivors can be constructed a whole personality, visible onscreen and able to communicate – meaningfully; artificial intelligence gives the avatar a memory and the ability to build on it, learn, take verbal initiatives; the ability also to read faces and gestures and intuit the living interlocutor’s feelings to such a degree of sensitivity as to blur the line – perhaps dissolve it altogether – between illusion and reality. “Bring back my child!” an anguished parent pleads – and the transaction proceeds from there. It's surprisingly inexpensive, prices ranging from thousands to tens of thousands of yen.

Close behind China has been the U.S. In July 2021 the San Francisco Chronicle profiled a young man who “brought back” his fiancée, eight years dead. COVID-19 was then at its height, and sudden bereavement was a common fate. If ever a time was ripe for something like “Deceased AI,” this was it. It surged.

There are ethical issues. Josei 7 recounts the “resurrection” of enka singer Misora Hibari (1937-89) – by NHK in 2019 for its annual year-end songfest Kohaku Uta Gassen. Hibari’s virtual persona was given a new song to sing, and critics were outraged. “By what right?” they demanded. To some it was “blasphemy.” It raised larger questions. Do the living, however well-intentioned, have the right to foist an identity of their choice onto the dead? What would the dead say, if they could speak?

Among other objections Josei 7 mentions are those raised by some psychologists. Grieving is a natural process, they say, and is perhaps best left to run its natural course. If grief is too easily gotten over, premature comfort may have dark consequences down the road. Or may not. This is uncharted territory. It may be destructive to the personality in ways not yet fully understood. But then, so might any palliative – anesthetics in surgery, painkillers for illness or injuries, and so on. Psychological counseling too, for that matter. Anyone not suffering can advise the suffering to bear up. That in itself smacks of being “too easy.”

But what about artificial intelligence itself? Josei 7 cites the case of a Google AI researcher who sued his employer after a nervous breakdown. Prolonged interaction with AI devices had turned his head, he said. The court case proceeds. Likewise the controversy.

© Japan Today

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Wasn't that an episode of Black Mirror?

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There are ethical issues. Josei 7 recounts the “resurrection” of enka singer Misora Hibari (1937-89) – by NHK in 2019 for its annual year-end songfest Kohaku Uta Gassen. Hibari’s virtual persona was given a new song to sing, and critics were outraged. 

Heck, I was outraged too, considering the shabby treatment meted out to Hibari by NHK. Through no fault of her own, her gangster brother got himself arrested and she was summarily treated by the network as a pariah.

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It needs to be included in the last will especially if the deceased was an important person with numerous public statements. We need to always know the fake from the truth.

Many deceased people leave a recorded video for their relatives.

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Everything is temporary, learn to enjoy while it lasts then let go, we'll all be happier.

But then there's money to be made ... it's why as society, we will never be happy.

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When my Mother died I wanted to write something for the ceremony of spreading her ashes.

I did a lot of reading from the "net "" and one piece really struck me

From India, and its message was after a period of mourning "let the deceased loved one go ".

That allows the soul to move on and the living to also move on and resume their lives.

Death comes for us all and should not be feared.

I believe even The Buddha, on his last days, spoke to his disciples saying why grieve for an event that we all will face.

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This is potentially very very dangerous to the loved ones remaining. As sad and heart-wrenching as the loss is, substitution with AI will create a mental dependency.... not good

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