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24 Feb, 2018 04:47

Digital immortality? Funeral agency wants to ‘revive’ the dead in AI chatbot project

Digital immortality? Funeral agency wants to ‘revive’ the dead in AI chatbot project

A Swedish funeral agency is looking for volunteers for an ambitious Black Mirror-esque artificial intelligence project that will give the deceased digital immortality and pave the way for communication with the dead.

The Fenix funeral agency wants to create digital copies of the deceased so that grieving loved ones can still communicate with those they have lost. “It can sound like science fiction, but the technology is already there,” the company’s CEO Charlotte Runius claimed, in the Swedish newspaper Dagen.

The digital version of a person will be based on a chatbot and the communication will work similar to how humans currently chat with robots online. The idea is that the technology should learn to communicate in the same way as the deceased person, by mapping and analyzing the person’s social media and emails.

The company is looking initially for ten test subjects to contribute to the development of the system. “So far, it's just about text here with us. Speech and image can be the next step,” Runius said. On the second stage of development a person’s voice would be recorded and their way of speaking analysed.

The concept of digital afterlife technology has courted much controversy and raised questions over the ethics of bringing someone “back” from the dead as a digital duplicate.

“I’m not the right person to say how the new technology affects us from a psychological perspective,” Runius admits, adding that it is important to have a spiritual discussion about how we cope with bereavement. The aim of Fenix is to create “living memories of the dead.” She compares the futuristic initiative as similar to that of videos and photos.

“This is seriously meant, but it is obviously in the future. The visual and textual technology exists today, but the audio part is not developed. But it’s only a matter of time before technology comes,” Runius told Skaraborgs Läns Tidning.

The long-term objective of Fenix is to facilitate those who want to be remembered this way by allowing them to record themselves and let their loved ones have oral conversations with their digital copies after they die. “The goal in the long run is to communicate with deceased relatives in virtual reality environments.”

Fenix funeral agency is known for its innovative approach to death and funerals. The company plans to offer a service of transporting the ashes of cremated remains into “space” via a balloon, where it will be dispersed in the upper atmosphere.

Meanwhile, IT experts have long warned about the dangers of AI technology and the ethical consequences of the rapid developments. Among them is renowned physicist Stephen Hawking, who reiterated last year that he envisages a grim future for mankind, predicting that AI could eventually replace humans and become a new form of life. 

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