Some Chinese firms claim to have “digitally revived” thousands of deceased people using artificial intelligence (AI) technology.
For generations, human beings have sought ways to navigate the challenging journey of grieving the loss of their loved ones.
And technology, like portraiture and photography, has helped them commemorate and remember the dead.
Bereaved Seakoo Wu and his wife are some of the many now turning to artificial intelligence (AI) to create avatars of their dearly departed.
They were devastated by the passing of their only child, Xuanmo, 22, while he was studying at Exeter University in the UK.
Following a boom in deep learning technologies like ChatGPT in China, Wu began researching ways to resurrect his late son.
He gathered photos, videos, and audio recordings of Xuanmo, and spent thousands of euros hiring AI firms that cloned his face and voice.
“Is there a solution for the pain of losing a loved one? First, you need to change your perspective,” said Wu.
“For example, the idea that there are no connections between the departed loved ones and yourself can be changed. The connections definitely exist. If you can believe in this mindset, your pain may lessen”.
The results so far are rudimentary. But they are enough for Wu’s wife to dissolve into tears before her late son’s grave when she hears a recording of their son from Wu’s phone while sweeping the tomb.
The words in the recording were never spoken by the late student, but have been brought into being with AI.
“[I know] how difficult it is for you. Every day, every moment, I wish I could be by your side, giving you warmth and strength,” said Xuanmo in the AI-generated audio.
“Choose courage, choose gratitude, choose positivity. This will make our lives better despite the losses. That’s what I want to see the most from heaven”.
Wu one day wants to build a fully realistic replica that behaves just like his dead son but dwells in virtual space.
He has set up a team to create a database containing vast amounts of information on his son.
Wu hopes to feed it into powerful algorithms to create an avatar capable of copying his son’s thinking and speech patterns with precision.
“One day, son, we will all reunite in the metaverse,” he said.
Rise of China’s ‘ghost bots’
The so-called “ghost bots” industry booming in China, according to Experts.
“There are so many people in China, many with emotional needs, which gives us an advantage when it comes to market demand,” said Zhang Zewei, the founder of the AI firm Super Brain.
Some Chinese firms claim to have “digitally revived” thousands of the deceased from as little as 30 seconds of audiovisual material.
The clients range from those who have died to living parents unable to spend time with their children and – controversially – a heartbroken woman’s ex-boyfriend.
Experts say ghost bots may offer comfort but warn that more research is needed to understand their psychological and ethical implications.
The inability of dead people to consent can spark ethical questions too, they say.
“What happens if they do things that will ‘contaminate’ the memory of the person they are supposed to represent?” said Tal Morse, a visiting research fellow at the Centre for Death and Society at Britain’s University of Bath.
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