What Happens When You Die? A New AI Life, for Some

Not everyone is convinced, however, that artificial intelligence in the mourning process is a good idea
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Jun 9, 2024 2:30 PM CDT
AI Version of You Could Help Your Loved Ones Grieve
Michael Bommer, who's terminally ill with colon cancer, answers questions at his home in Berlin on May 22. Bommer, who has only a few more weeks to live, teamed up with friend who runs the AI-powered legacy platform Eternos to "create a comprehensive, interactive AI version of himself.   (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber)

When Michael Bommer found out that he was terminally ill with colon cancer, he talked a lot with his wife, Anett, about what would happen after his death. She told him one of the things she'd miss most is being able to ask him questions because he's so well read and always shares his wisdom, Bommer tells the AP. That conversation sparked an idea for Bommer: Re-create his voice using artificial intelligence to survive him after he passed away. The 61-year-old entrepreneur teamed up with his friend, Robert LoCascio, CEO of the AI-powered legacy platform Eternos. Within two months, they built "a comprehensive, interactive AI version" of Bommer—the company's first client.

Eternos, which got its name from the Italian and Latin word for "eternal," says its technology will allow Bommer's family "to engage with his life experiences and insights." It's among several companies that have emerged in the last few years in what's become a growing space for grief-related AI technology. One of the most well-known startups in this area, California-based StoryFile, allows people to interact with prerecorded videos and uses its algorithms to detect the most relevant answers to questions posed by users. Another company, called HereAfter AI, offers similar interactions through a "Life Story Avatar" that users can create by answering prompts or sharing their own personal stories.

While some have embraced this technology as a way to cope with grief, others feel uneasy about maintaining interactions with those who've passed away. Still others worry it could make the mourning process more difficult, as there isn't any closure. Katarzyna Nowaczyk-Basinska, a research fellow at the University of Cambridge's Leverhulme Centre for the Future of Intelligence who co-authored a study on the topic, said there's very little known about the potential consequences of using digital simulations for the dead. So, for now, it remains "a vast techno-cultural experiment." Bommer, meanwhile, is excited about his AI personality. "Think of it sitting somewhere in a drawer," he told his wife. "If you need it, you can take it out; if you don't need it, just keep it there." Anett Bommer herself is more hesitant. More here. (More artificial intelligence stories.)

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