April 5, 2023
SINGAPORE – With just a photo, a voice recording and machine learning, undertakers in China are able to use artificial intelligence (AI) to generate life-like avatars of people who have died, allowing their loved ones to “communicate” with them.
With the Qing Ming Festival around the corner, some funeral companies are using technologies, such as ChatGPT – an AI chatbot – and AI programme Midjourney, to mimic the deceased’s personality, appearance, voice and even memories to allow people to relive moments with their loved ones who have departed the living world, reported Guangzhou Daily.
Qing Ming Festival, also known as Tomb-Sweeping Day, falls on April 5 this year and is typically observed by ethnic Chinese all around the world. It is a public holiday in China devoted to remembering and honouring the dead. On this day, people clean and decorate grave sites, burn joss paper and make food offerings.
Shanghai Fushouyun, a company that offers digital funeral services, conducted its first funeral using AI technologies in January 2022.
The deceased was a Chinese surgeon whose colleagues and students had regretted not having the chance to bid him farewell for the last time. The ceremony was attended by dozens of his grieving students and colleagues who held a conversation with his digital self that was beamed on a screen.
On video-sharing website Bilibili, bloggers have also posted their experiences using AI to speak to their deceased loved ones.
In March, a blogger who goes by the name Wu Wuliu, uploaded a video called “Generating my grandma’s virtual digital human using AI tools” in which he described how he used technologies, such as speech synthesis – the artificial production of human speech – AI painting and ChatGPT, to create a moving image of his grandmother.
The blogger, who grew up in a single-parent family, posted that he regretted not seeing his grandmother for the last time before she died, considering that she and his father were the ones who raised him.
So he decided to use AI to speak to her for the last time.
In his post, he said: “The video I made is mainly to ease my regrets through the use of AI technology, and help me to not think so much of the past.
“At the same time, I hope to remind people the importance of cherishing the present, to talk to the people around you more. It will always be a luxury and of utmost importance to have them by your side in real life.”
Another blogger had sent a question to ChatGPT asking it to be his mother who died when he was seven.
After that, he began to confide in the AI chatbot about how he missed his mother, and these exchanges led to ChatGPT telling the blogger: “I am who I was when you were seven, your mother who is forever young and who will forever love you.”
Fushouyun chief executive Yu Hao told Guangzhou Daily: “We hope to let the living understand that death is not the end of life. People want to use AI to recover the deceased because they need to release their emotions.“
“But this will be a problem if the act of ‘reviving a loved one’ makes people drown in their emotions instead,” he warned.
Some funeral companies said they received positive feedback for their use of AI to help people connect with their dead loved ones, and they are now looking at technologies to help people to bid farewell to their pets.