One of my best friends passed away earlier this year. To say it happened suddenly is an understatement. His departure left all of us paralyzed with shock; many of us, myself included, had said our last words to him without knowing it.
In the months following his death — even today — I find myself in a conversation with no answering voice at the other end. There are a million things I want to point out to him, loud shirts I know he’d love, beautiful quotes I want to share. I still keep our texts. Our WhatsApp conversation is now a one-sided monologue, his absence underscored by the single gray tick at the end of every message I type.
But these days, technology is attempting to fill that hole in our hearts. I recently read that there’s an AI chatbot service that can replicate your loved one who’s passed on. They do so by taking a person’s message history, plugging it into an algorithm, and programming it to learn to talk like that person.
And it’s not just texts. There are services like Re;memory by Deepbrain AI that can recreate a person’s physique and voice, resulting in a digital avatar that looks and sounds just like the real person. Digital twin technology has transcended art, buildings, entire cities — to finally apply to human beings.
Would you do it? Resurrect a digital ghost of a loved one — a ghost constructed from strings of data, assembled by an algorithm that can calibrate its tone and timbre to match the voice of someone long gone?
I know some would jump at the chance. Part of me desperately wants to have one more conversation with my friend, even if to say goodbye properly.
But there’s another part of me that wonders if this would just be a delusion. Saying goodbye is one thing. But it’s also likely that one day, in a moment of missing him, I’ll send a text. And this time, there’ll be a reply that pings back, sounding exactly like it was typed out by my friend. Will it help to ease the absence? Or will it, in some way, prevent me from reaching acceptance and properly grieving his death in a healthy way?
Honestly, it’s a gray area. Bereavement is an experience that everyone copes with differently, with varying levels of grief and pain. And for those of us looking to ease that immediate black horror of losing a loved one, creating an AI chatbot replica may be the temporary painkiller we need until we can gradually accept the fact that the person is gone.
When you think about it, it’s not that much different from going to a medium or therapist, only that the communication that we seek is enabled by AI. Ultimately, instead of a sudden departure, the person leaves us in a much gentler and more gradual way, giving us enough time to come to terms with their absence.
And for most of us, that might just be the closure we need.
What are your thoughts? Send your comments and responses to [email protected]. All opinions expressed in this piece are the writer’s own and do not represent the views of KrASIA.