EXCLUSIVE: I tested an AI ‘digital afterlife’ service so my clone can live on after death

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When I spoke to my phone, my face appeared on the screen, and I said, ‘Hi, my name is Robert, and I’m looking forward to telling you about my life.’

I was talking to an AI avatar of myself, designed to allow people to ‘live on’ after death so that relatives can talk to them and learn about their lives.

My wife’s reaction to my AI clone was absolute horror, as she simply said, ‘My God, why?’

The clone comes courtesy of a ‘digital afterlife’ service, Hereafter.AI, part of a wave of AI-powered ‘grief tech’  created by programmer James Vlahos after his father died of cancer in 2016.

AI experts speaking to DailyMail.com believe AI bots to ’emulate’ loved ones will grow in sophistication in coming years so that people can ‘live on’ after death – and 3D holograms could even come for Christmas dinner. 

Talking to myself has never been more surreal (Image; Rob Waugh)

Talking to myself has never been more surreal (Image; Rob Waugh) 

The service creates a 'Legacy Avatar' that can live on after your death (Rob Waugh/Hereafter)

The service creates a ‘Legacy Avatar’ that can live on after your death (Rob Waugh/Hereafter)

Vlahos programmed a ‘Dadbot’ while his father was still alive, recording his responses to questions – and Hereafter’s service now uses AI to make it easier to interact.

The app now promises ‘Your stories and voice. Forever.’

The personalized Hereafter chatbot has my picture on it: you talk to it by pressing a button on the screen, and the image pulses before responding, like a digital Ouija board.

The first time you hear your own voice coming out of the screen, it’s pretty alarming, and I can imagine it would be even more so if it were a deceased relative.

But the service is pretty impressive: the AI allows you to converse very naturally with the ‘dead’ person and guides you to anecdotes that the person has pre-recorded about their parents, hobbies and so on.

The process starts with the app interviewing you extensively about your life, with automated prompts that slowly ‘fill in’ the details (asking you questions about siblings, for example, and memorable holidays), and then AI does the rest.

It feels quite natural to chat to, and because the subjects the app asks you about tend to be emotional ones, there’s a raw honesty to talking to it that you don’t generally get from talking to real people.

There’s one huge, glaring problem with the service: it’s $3.99 a month to access the basic version and $7.99 for the full one.

So, in other words, your dead relatives can ‘live on’ as long as you keep paying.

How AI could mean relatives could attend Christmas dinner even after death

Advances in AI could mean that 3D holograms of dead relatives will come for Christmas dinner (Midjourney/Rob Waugh)

Advances in AI could mean that 3D holograms of dead relatives will come for Christmas dinner (Midjourney/Rob Waugh)

Dhilon Solanki, Founder of personal podcast platform Story Locker, comments: ‘Advances in AI have put us on the edge of a new frontier regarding how technology can preserve – or even extend – our legacies after we die.

‘Demand for the digital afterlife is likely to go hand in hand with the increased pursuit of longevity and anti-aging techniques, ensuring people get at least their three score and ten and have their voice and image ‘banked’ and available to relatives.

‘While a service like HereAfter works by using and storing information input by a user while they are alive, in the future just a few snippets of old recordings into a chatbot could be enough for large language models to simulate entire conversations with those who have passed – or perhaps even recreate our personalities after we’ve gone.

‘Armed with the extraordinary visual capabilities of AI, as seen through the rise of deepfake videos, the potential could be there to create 3D holographic avatars of long-lost family members, filling empty chairs around the Christmas dinner table.

‘Yet we shouldn’t forget the tools at our disposal to record special moments or a loved one’s life story in the here and now. Legacy AI tools cannot become a backstop or excuse for neglecting to seize the day.

‘It’s also clear that the personal and ethical implications posed by these innovations will be huge. They are likely to put a greater scrutiny on the narrowing boundaries between man and machine.

‘Nothing is more valuable than our human memories and relationships, and we must consider whether using AI to bring back loved ones ‘in spirit’ is a Pandora’s Box we shouldn’t be opening.’

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