Chinese Mourners Embrace AI to Reconnect with Lost Loved Ones

Chinese Mourners Embrace AI to Reconnect with Lost Loved Ones

In an era where technology intersects poignantly with human emotions, China is using artificial intelligence (AI) to’resurrect’ lost loved ones.

This innovative yet controversial approach offers comfort to those like Seakoo Wu, a bereaved father who sought solace in AI to keep his son’s memory alive. Despite ethical debates, this approach marks a significant shift in how we confront loss and remember those who have passed.

Also read: AI Powered by Human Brain Cells Achieves Speech Recognition

The emotional journey of Seakoo Wu

Seakoo Wu’s story is a testament to the lengths a grieving parent will go to preserve the essence of a departed child. Wu’s son, Xuanmo, a 22-year-old accounting and finance student, tragically passed away, leaving behind a void. Determined to keep his memory alive, Wu turned to advanced AI technology.

He meticulously gathered photographs, videos, and audio recordings of Xuanmo, investing thousands of dollars in AI firms to clone his son’s voice and facial features. The result was a rudimentary yet profound representation of his son, powered by a vast database of personal data. Wu’s efforts culminated in a recording where Xuanmo was heard uttering words he had never spoken, offering solace to his father.

“I know you’re in great pain every day because of me and feel guilty and helpless. Even though I can’t be by your side ever again, my soul is still in this world, accompanying you through life.”

This poignant moment highlights the emotional depth of Wu’s endeavour. Looking toward the future, Wu dreams of integrating this technology with virtual reality, creating a lifelike avatar of Xuanmo. His goal is to sync reality with the metaverse, providing an immersive experience where he can interact with a digital version of his son. Wu further envisions training the avatar to recognize him as his father, bridging the gap between the physical and digital realms.

“Once we synchronise reality and the metaverse, I’ll have my son with me again. I can train him… so that when he sees me, he knows I’m his father.”

The growing market for digital resurrection

China’s advancements in AI technology have opened doors to new possibilities in digital resurrection. Zhang Zewei, the founder of the AI firm Super Brain and a collaborator with Wu, highlights China’s leading position in AI globally. With a large population and diverse emotional needs, China presents a significant market for such technology.

“On AI technology, China is in the highest class worldwide… There are so many people in China, many with emotional needs, which gives us an advantage when it comes to market demand.”

According to Zewei, Super Brain provides services for crafting basic avatars, with fees ranging from 10,000 to 20,000 yuan ($1,400–$2,800). These avatars, which take around 20 days to develop, promise a form of immortality, allowing digital versions of individuals to exist indefinitely. As Zewei puts it, these avatars can “exist forever, even after their body has been lost,” presenting a new frontier in how we remember and interact with the deceased.

“A digital version of someone can exist forever, even after their body has been lost.”

The ethical and psychological implications

While the technology to create digital avatars provides comfort to some, it raises crucial ethical and psychological questions. Experts are divided on the implications of this technology. Some see it as a breakthrough in humanism, providing a new way to cope with loss. However, others caution about the need for further research to understand these ‘ghost bots’ psychological impact.

Tal Morse, a visiting research fellow at the Centre for Death and Society at Britain’s University of Bath, raises a pivotal question: How faithful are these AI representations to the personalities they emulate? The concern is about the potential ‘contamination’ of memories if these digital avatars act in ways uncharacteristic of the person they represent. Zhan from Super Brain acknowledges this dilemma, describing the technology as a “double-edged sword.”

“What happens if they do things that will ‘contaminate’ the memory of the person they are supposed to represent?”

Image credits: Shutterstock, CC images, Midjourney, Unsplash.