Is there life after death? All you need is a little AI and voicetech

Image: Fiona in Eden - Flickr
Alex Stockwell

Cutting-edge voicetech is being used to recreate us online when we finally give up the ghost

Artificial intelligence has gotten to the stage where, conversationally, it can be eerily indistinguishable from an actual person. This, coupled with advanced voicetech, is making it an invaluable tool in the customer service industry where chatbots are helping us to solve problems, or even offering legal advice and education.

However, there are now a number of apps and services that are attempting to help us cope with mankind’s most poignant existential problem; death itself.

For example, Replika is an app that allows users to create a fairly accurate representation of anyone just by answering a number of questions, which can potential be used to allow users to continue talking with a loved one after they have died.

There are also other websites where can create a digital scrapbook of your life in order to immortalize yourself online, or another where you can arrange for pre-recorded videos and messages to be sent to loved ones, or published on your social media pages, long after you’ve gone.

All of these ideas are indicative of a time where we are looking to technology to help us deal with death and the grieving process.

Replika, a voicetech chatbot of your digital clone, even after death

Eugenia Kuyda, the creator of Replika, in conversation with BBC Radio, explained how, as a way of grieving after the sudden, tragic death of her friend Roman Mazurenko, she found herself poring over the thousands of texts and messages that the two had exchanged over the course of their friendship.

This led to the realization that, within all these messages were Mazurenko’s idiosyncrasies and unique patterns of speech, and therefore they could potentially be used to create a digital version of her late buddy.

She agonized over the ethical dilemma of the situation, but ultimately decided that she had to at least explore the idea. And by using the chatbot structure her and her team had already developed, she put the data through a Google-built neural network (a form of AI that uses statistics to identify patterns in images, text and audio) to create a bot.

The results were “eerily accurate”, and the team then created a bot that could be used by absolutely anyone, which led to the creation of Replika.

The company sees Replika primarily as a means to create a digital clone of anyone for a purposes such as possibly being a companion for the lonely, or as a memorial for a loved one, or eventually, as another version of ourselves that could be put to use doing certain mundane tasks.

For some, the idea of turning a dead person into a chatbot certainly ventures into an ethical grey area, and arguably interferes with our ability to process the reality of death. But for a few other companies, coming to terms with the process of dying has resulted in a number of unique services.

The digital afterlife

Eterime is an idea that aims to create for their users an online footprint – made up of everything they’ve ever posted online, the status updates, photographs, comments and so on – with AI to make them virtually immortal.

This takes the form of an “intelligent avatar” to can react to questions and comments as you would. The site is set to launch in full in a few months time, and already has nearly 40,000 people signed up.

And then there is which makes it possible to schedule social media messages, video testimonials, and texts to be sent out to loved ones or posted to your Facebook profile after you’ve left this mortal coil.

Talking with someone after they’ve died, or sending out messages from beyond the void may seem all a bit creepy, but perhaps, for some, these ideas will at least provide a touch of comfort.

Plus, it might make death seem less daunting knowing that you can still send a tweet or remain, in a sense, floating around the internet forever.


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