Use of AI to ‘resurrect’ the dead expected to gain prominence

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The use of artificial intelligence (AI) and augmented reality (AR) to preserve the personalities of deceased people in virtual form is expected to gain traction over the next few years, as more people look to keep an emotional connection with their deceased loved ones.

This was the word from Edward Saatchi, founder and CEO of AI-powered virtual being company Fable Studio, speaking yesterday at the virtual SingularityU South Africa Summit 2021.

Discussing trends around virtual beings, Saatchi noted the line between the physical and virtual universe is increasingly blurring, with the use of emerging technologies enabling inter-connectivity between the two worlds.

Describing a virtual being, Saatchi noted it is an AI-powered virtual or digital character which includes an avatar, a virtual being interacting in a metaverse, or characters in a virtual game that are able to communicate with human beings either on a video-conferencing platform or in a universe of virtual worlds.

Last year, Fable Studio announced two conversational AI virtual beings − dubbed Charlie and Beck − who are able to interact with each other and with humans beings online. The characters are a mix of storytelling and AI, a trend Fable says it pioneered in the belief that virtual beings are becoming a huge market, as more people seek companionship and entertainment.

Discussing the emerging trend of using AI to enable digital immortality, or to virtually ‘resurrect’ the dead, Saatchi pointed out the drift is expected to gain momentum as more people invent ways to make deceased loved ones “live forever”.

“All of us in some way do want to hold onto our deceased loved ones, but it’s important to think about the natural grieving process and how important that is. My mom, for example, is not alive anymore and I would love my grandchildren to meet their great grandmother and hear from her to know what she was like and share that part with them.

“So I think there’s a few ways of doing that: for instance, if someone is dying, they would be constantly recorded while they are still alive, and creating them as AI to engage with future family members is a terrific concept.”

However, he stressed the importance of taking into consideration that creating a virtual being of the late person should never undermine the grieving and natural bereavement process of family and friends of the departed.

This virtual trend has been increasingly gaining traction across the globe since late American actress Carrie Fisher was virtually ‘resurrected’ to play her role as Princess Leia in Star Wars.

Last year, Kanye West gifted his wife Kim Kardashian a hologram of her late father for her 40th birthday.

Earlier this year, Microsoft announced it had secured a patent for software that will reincarnate people as chatbots, using their images, voice data and social media posts to create their profile.

According to Saatchi, factors that will see the trend gaining traction are NFT-based avatars and the rise of metaverses, where users in different parts of the globe can interact with each other in a computer-generated environment.

From an ethical perspective, Saatchi added some people may foresee a problem with this invention in future, such as concerns around humans being sucked up in the virtual world, resulting in minimal physical interaction.

“I’m not convinced that we won’t be interacting with physical beings as much as we would with virtual beings. But the hope would be that we actually create virtual people for a good cause – people who are better than us, who are kinder and who are more loving and compassionate, so that we can aspire to become more like them.”

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