A Look Into the "Digital Afterlife"

Forget about dating with AI, there’s a burgeoning trend, albeit still in its nascent stages, wherein companies can create a digital persona of our deceased loved ones, using data collected from text messages, social media posts, voice recordings, stories and reels to make a virtual reconstruction of the deceased person. It’s called the digital afterlife, and it’s an interesting concept but also one that’s rife with potential ethical concerns.

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The most glaring issue with this technology is data privacy and consent, and this is also linked to the possible psychological stress or damage that it may cause relatives or people close to the deceased. It is possible for some people to find relief or solace in being able to interact in one way or another with their deceased loved one as a means of finding closure, however, for others, it may aggravate their grieving process and cause undue harm to their mental and emotional state.

Since different people have different ways of processing their grief, the psychological and ethical ramifications of recreating a deceased person by making a virtual persona patterned after them may be quite grave. Some have even termed the negative effects that these digital afterlife personas cause as “digital hauntings”.

Moreover, there are certain things that the deceased might have wanted to take to their grave and so, creating these personas may be an infringement of their right to their privacy, however, social media companies’ control over people’s access to data may complicate these matters.

Of course, most of these reconstructions are possible because most of us have our digital footprint online. It would be less likely to reconstruct VR or AI versions of our deceased loved ones from 50 years ago or even those from 30 years ago, before we had all this digital footprint and data.

Having said that, we may have reached the point in which, with the technology that we have, we can create avatars, holograms, or chatbots imbued with mannerisms, habits, or even the particular personality traits by which we remember our loved ones. So, it might not be long before these digital afterlife companies are able to recreate personas of our loved ones just based on photos or written documents like letters, and such.

Personally, I prefer not to linger or wallow too much in grief. Maybe there are some people who may have had regrets about not saying something to their loved ones before they passed away, or not being able to do something for them while they were still alive. For those people, I understand the value of this technology or service as it would help them get closure, even though if you think about it rationally, it wouldn’t necessarily affect anything with the deceased. But it is for the sake of those who have been bereft, and their peace of mind.

There are some risks to this technology, especially with how AI is becoming more and more sophisticated, and how one can make somebody say something that they never really said while they were alive, or make them do something that they never did, through the use of AI. It may not be perfect, but the concern is still valid, and so, this would require a lot of policy conversations and legal revisions.

At the end of the day, although this technology can be helpful, we also want to consider the wishes of our deceased loved ones, and we want to be able to respectfully honor them, while still having some form of connection with them. So, the best way is to communicate these concerns properly and provide meaningful feedback to help minimize the potential risks and ethical issues that these digital afterlife technologies will inevitably face.

(Image credit: note thanun/Unsplash)

Source: neatorama

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