In China, artificial intelligence to speak to the deceased

In China, artificial intelligence to speak to the deceased

In a cemetery in eastern China, Seakoo Wu listens to the voice of her late son on her phone. It is not a recording of the time of his lifetime: if he speaks, it is thanks to artificial intelligence.

I know that you suffer a lot, every day, because of me, and that you feel guilty and helpless“, said the deceased Xuanmo, in a voice with slightly robotic accents.

Even though I can never be by your side again, my spirit is still in this world and accompanies you in life“.

Like Mr. Wu and his wife, more and more bereaved Chinese are using artificial intelligence (AI) to restore some semblance of life to their lost loved ones.

For Xuanmo’s father, the goal is to ultimately create a virtual double of his son who behaves exactly like him.

Once we sync reality and the metaverse, I’ll have my son with me again“, assure M. Wu.

Several Chinese companies have rushed into this niche of virtual mourning: some say they have created thousands of “digital people”, sometimes just from a 30-second video of the deceased.

“Ghost Bots”

Saekoo and his wife saw their lives turned upside down last year when their only son died of a stroke at age 22.

He was studying finance and accounting at the University of Exeter, UK. Sporty, “he had a full life“, says Saekoo.

The rise in China of ChatGPT-type conversational robots has given the devastated father a new hope: to virtually resuscitate his son.

To do this, he collected photos, videos and audio recordings of Xuanmo. Then he spent thousands of dollars with AI companies to clone his child’s face and voice.

If the results remain rudimentary, Saekoo does not want to stop there: equipped with a file that he has put together, containing an astronomical quantity of information on his son, he relies on algorithms to reproduce his way of thinking and to speak.

The phenomenon of these “ghost bots” does not only exist in China: in the United States in particular, companies are in this niche.

More “on artificial intelligence technology, China is among the best in the world“, says Zhang Zewei, founder of the company Super Brain, specializing in this technology, and former collaborator of Saekoo Wu.

And there is such a large population in China, many in emotional need, that it gives us a market advantage.“, assures this man who lives in Jingjiang (east).

Super Brain charges 10,000 to 20,000 yuan (1,300 to 2,600 euros) to create a basic avatar in about 20 days, according to Mr. Zhang.

Her clients are not only bereaved people, but also parents frustrated at not spending enough time with their children… or even an inconsolable lover who wants to see his ex-girlfriend again.

One of the services offered is a video call with an employee, whose face and voice are replaced by those of the desired person.

It is of enormous importance for our society, even for the whole world“estimates M. Zhang.”A digital version of someone (can) exist forever, even if their body is no longer there“.

Consent

Sima Huapeng, founder of the company Silicon Intelligence, in Nanjing (east), is convinced: this technology represents “a new kind of humanism“.

He compares it to portraiture or photography, which in their time revolutionized the way people could remember their deceased.

These virtual doubles can provide some comfort, recognizes Tal Morse, researcher at the Center for the Study of Death and Society at the British University of Bath. But we still need to know what their psychological and ethical impact will be.

An essential question here is to know (…) to what extent these ghost bots are +faithful+ to the personality they are supposed to imitate“, he said.

Car “what happens if they do things that +pollute+ the memory of the person they are supposed to represent?

And how can we know if the deceased person would have really consented?

Any new technology is “double-edged,” admits Mr. Zhang of Super Brain. But “as long as we help those who need it, I don’t see the problem“.

He says he does not work with those for whom the experience could have a negative impact, citing the case of a woman who attempted suicide after the death of her daughter.

Xuanmo would “probably have agreed” to be brought back to life virtually, his father says.

One day, my son, we will all meet in the metaverse“, he says, while his wife cries in front of his grave. “Technology is improving day by day (…) it’s only a matter of time“.