Find a funeral director
Compare funeral directors near you Compare funeral directors near you
All categories

Can AI Help Us Grieve?

AI Generated Brain

Does the advent of AI give us a new way of processing grief? Image by Cambridge_Spark

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is a relatively new field of computing that has promised to transform every aspect of the way we live. But can it really help us cope with death, bereavement and grief?

AI takes many forms, from chatbots, to voice reconstruction, recreating images and photos to producing a fully featured hologram of a person. Similarly, the ways that AI has been reported to help with grief have varied. Some people have told stories about how they have asked chatbots like ChatGPT to ‘speak’ in the voices of a parent or relative, and found comfort in the resulting words. Others have been making recordings and scans of their own face and words, in the hope that when they die an AI algorithm will be available for their own loved ones to use.

As well as individuals taking it upon themselves to ensure an AI legacy, entire companies have emerged, with the aim of preserving and recreating elements of a loved one who has died. HereAfter AI is a US based company that lets people create a “life story avatar” by uploading pictures, videos and voice recordings. Friends, family and future generations will be able to ask questions to the avatar, which will respond by using its AI to interpret the question and find an answer using the uploaded content. This means that a bereaved child whose mother died when they were young could ask their avatar-mother about their own childhood, their first job, or how they met their dad.

Another company, Shanghai Fushouyun in China, is using a variety of AI tools including ChatGPT and Midjourney, to create fully animated and voiced avatars that are shown on large screens at their own funerals. The company says that this helps relatives and friends to relive special memories and moments, and gives everyone at the funeral the chance to say a final goodbye.

These new developments have already divided opinion. While some people have already found comfort in AI technologies, others will inevitably shudder at the thought of anyone taking their likeness, voice and memories and uploading them to software that they will not control after they die. There are ethical, and legal, questions that have already been asked about AI using artists' work to produce similar paintings, songs, and novels. The same questions could be asked about using messages, for example, from a recently deceased friend in order to continue a conversation with ‘them’ after they have died, using their words without consent.

1 Will AI change the way that our online data is used?

The opportunities and challenges that Artificial Intelligence offer are ultimately the latest in a long string of technologies that have already transformed the way in which we grieve. It is seen as normal to speak to a gravestone, to take comfort in old letters and photos, and to wonder about hypothetical situations - what would Dad say? How would Nan feel about this? The fact that people are already finding genuine comfort in the algorithms show that there is value in AI for grief. The limits of what we might find acceptable are always personal, and when it comes to grief, it is not right to tell someone that they are doing it ‘wrong’.

Over the years, society has changed and adapted with the times to incorporate new technologies and innovations into our grieving process. 20 years ago, publishing an online obituary may have seemed undignified. It was only during the COVID-19 pandemic that webcasting a funeral became widespread. Most social media platforms offer some form of ‘memorialisation’, allowing a nominated person to take control of a profile after death.

There will continue to be questions asked of AI. The conversation has only just begun, and there are already genuine concerns about consent, fair use and copyright. One of the common models of grief - Dr Kubler-Ross’s 5 Stage theory - says that the final stage, acceptance, happens when you have processed painful truths and the difficult reality that you have lost a part of your life. Can you get to this point if you are still talking to, and receiving messages back from, the avatar of your loved ones? Perhaps we need to rethink our commonly held theories, or perhaps we will choose to reject a digital legacy by signing a digital do-not-reanimate (DDNR) order as a part of our wills..

There is no ‘normal’ way to grieve a loved one’s death, and there is no easy answer. As AI matures and grows, new questions will be asked and new answers will have to be found. It does seem inevitable that the way in which we grieve will change, perhaps in a fundamental way, but that is how society has always functioned. For most of us alive today, our online presence will remain when we die - how this information is used and stored will largely be beyond our control. Perhaps knowing that our loved ones could use this data to process their grief is a silver lining.

Comprehensive listings to compare funeral directors near you Compare funeral directors near you

113,458 verified reviews