When I spoke on the phone, my face appeared on the screen and I said, ‘Hello, my name is Robert and I hope I can tell you about my life.’
I was talking to an AI avatar of mine, designed to allow people to “go on living” after death so their family members can talk to them and learn about their lives.
My wife’s reaction to my AI clone was one of absolute horror, as she simply said, “Oh my God, why?”
The clone comes courtesy of a ‘digital afterlife’ service, Hereafter.AI, part of a wave of ‘grief technology’ powered by artificial intelligence. created by programmer James Vlahos after the death of his father cancer in 2016.
AI experts who spoke to DailyMail.com believe that AI robots to “emulate” loved ones will become more sophisticated in the coming years so that people can “go on living” after death, and 3D holograms could even appear at Christmas dinner.
Talking to myself has never been more surreal (Image; Rob Waugh)
The service creates a ‘Legacy Avatar’ that can live on after your death (Rob Waugh/Hereafter)
Vlahos programmed a ‘Dadbot’ while his father was still alive, recording his responses to questions, and Hereafter’s service now uses AI to facilitate interaction.
The app now promises “Your stories and your voice.” Forever.’
Hereafter’s custom chatbot has my photo: you talk to it by pressing a button on the screen and the image pulses before responding, like a digital Ouija board.
The first time you hear your own voice coming out of the screen is quite alarming, and I imagine it would be even more so if it were a deceased relative.
But the service is quite impressive: the AI allows you to converse very naturally with the “dead” person and guides you to anecdotes that the person has pre-recorded about their parents, hobbies, etc.
The process begins with the app interviewing you at length about your life, with automated prompts that slowly “fill in” the details (asking you questions about siblings, for example, and memorable vacations), and then the AI does the rest.
It feels pretty natural to chat with her, and because the topics the app asks you about tend to be emotional, there’s a raw honesty to talking to her that you don’t usually get from talking to real people.
There’s one huge, glaring problem with the service: It costs $3.99 a month to access the basic version and $7.99 to access the full version.
In other words, your deceased relatives can “live on” as long as you continue to pay.
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Advances in AI could mean 3D holograms of deceased relatives will appear at Christmas dinner (Midjourney/Rob Waugh)
Dhilon Solanki, founder of personal podcast platform Story Locker, comments: “Advances in AI have put us on the brink of a new frontier in how technology can preserve, or even extend, our legacy after we die.
“The demand for a digital afterlife is likely to go hand in hand with a greater pursuit of longevity and anti-aging techniques, ensuring that people get at least their three-point-ten and have their voice and image ‘saved’ and available to their relatives.
“While a service like HereAfter works by using and storing information entered by a user while they are alive, in the future just a few snippets of old recordings in a chatbot could be enough for large language models to simulate full conversations with those who have deceased. – or maybe even recreate our personalities after we’re gone.
«Armed with the extraordinary visual capabilities of AI, as seen through the rise of deepfake videos, there could be the possibility of creating 3D holographic avatars of long-lost relatives, filling empty chairs around the dinner table of Christmas.
‘However, we must not forget the tools at our disposal to record special moments or the life story of a loved one in the here and now. Legacy AI tools cannot become a backup or an excuse not to seize the moment.
‘It is also clear that the personal and ethical implications these innovations will raise will be enormous. They are likely to put greater scrutiny on the increasingly narrow boundaries between man and machine.
“Nothing is more valuable than our memories and human relationships, and we must consider whether using AI to recover our loved ones ‘in spirit’ is a Pandora’s box we should not open.”