Employing Artificial Intelligence to Communicate with the Dead

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At the age of 75, Dr. Stephenie Lucas Oney continues to seek counsel from her father. She wonders how he dealt with prejudice. How did he achieve success in the face of overwhelming odds? Employing Artificial Intelligence to Communicate with the Dead.

The answers are based on the life experiences of William Lucas, a Harlem-born African-American who worked as a judge, F.B.I. agent, and police officer. However, the guidance is not imparted to Dr. Oney in person. Over a year has passed since the passing of her father.

On the contrary, she utilizes HereAfter AI, an application fueled by artificial intelligence, to access the responses provided in her father’s voice. These responses are derived from countless interviews conducted with him before his demise in May 2022.

Although his voice comforts her, she said she primarily designed the profile to honor her four children and eight grandchildren.

An increasing number of individuals are considering incorporating A.I. technology into the bereavement process in an attempt to communicate with the deceased. However, this practice has sparked ethical concerns and unnerved those experimenting with it.

Two years after the inception of StoryFile, HereAfter AI was released in 2019. StoryFile generates interactive videos where subjects appear to engage in eye contact, respire, and twitch while responding to inquiries. Both platforms elicit users’ responses to inquiries such as “Describe your childhood” and “What was the most difficult obstacle you ever encountered?”

Mark Sample, an instructor of Death in the Digital Age and a professor of digital studies at Davidson College, is not taken aback by their allure.

“With every new technological advancement comes the temptation to employ it to communicate with the deceased,” Mr. Sample explained. He referred to Thomas Edison’s unsuccessful endeavor to develop a “spirit phone.”

“Slightly difficult to watch.”

Lynne Nieto is also in agreement. She and her husband, Augie, a co-founder of the gym equipment manufacturer Life Fitness, established a StoryFile before his passing in February from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or A.L.S. They believed it could be utilized on the website of the nonprofit organization they established to raise funds for A.L.S. research, Augie’s Quest. One day, his young descendants would be interested in viewing it.

Ms. Nieto initially accessed his file approximately six months after his demise.

She admitted, “I must admit, it was a little difficult to watch,” further stating that it bore a resemblance to their Saturday morning conversations and appeared excessively “unfiltered.”

Such emotions are not unusual. These products compel consumers to confront the one concept contrary to their programming: mortality.

“People are apprehensive about death and loss,” said in an interview James Vlahos, co-founder of HereAfter AI. “People may find it challenging to sell because they are confronted with a reality they prefer to avoid.”

The chatbot that Mr. Vlahos developed in memory of his father before he passed from lung cancer in 2017 evolved into HereAfter AI. As soon as Mr. Vlahos, a journalist and conversational A.I. expert who has contributed to The New York Times Magazine, published an article detailing the experience for Wired, he received inquiries from individuals requesting that he create a spousebot, mombot, or similar creation.