James Vlahos’s father passed away from cancer in 2017, but he can still talk to him. They talk about everything under the sun.
This is made possible with a conversational chatbot called Dadbot. For four months, he recorded his dying dad’s life stories, then turned them into an interactive AI that speaks in his father’s voice.
Dadbot “was a transformational experience for me because it gave me great solace. It gave my family great solace,” says Vlahos, a former tech journalist and author of Talk to Me, a book on conversational AI. “It didn’t replace my dad, but it gave us this really rich way to remember him.”
He is bringing his technology to the HereAfter AI. The platform lets the dead live on as what Vlahos calls a “Life Story Avatar” that chats on demand, in the recorded voice of the deceased. They talk in an Alexa-like voice recognition technology, with prerecorded stories, memories, jokes, songs, and even advice. This is like a black mirror episode.
This is a warm advancement in technology. You must sign up to become a Life Story Avatar, and actively participate. You start the app, and an automated chatbot interviewer asks you questions about your life, then records the spoken replies to capture your voice and memories and relay a sense of your personality. You can also upload photos to illustrate your words.
The subscription starts at $49 a year (about £37, AU$68). Users also have the option to download their full audio recordings for $95, or around £72/$AU134.
“While HereAfter AI does store the recordings that have been made, we do not distribute or monetize them in an alternate way, such as data mining for advertising,” Vlahos says.
“Conversational AI tech is in its infancy,” Vlahos says, adding that he wants future versions of the automated interviewer to be better at understanding the nuances of conversation. “But it has the basic bare bones of a give and takes rather than only one way.”
The app can also be used to organize memories.
“To be able to hear my dad’s voice when I want to… that is comforting to me,” Vlahos says. “It makes him more present to me than he otherwise would be.”
However, there might be one issue. If there was some information known to the deceased person and if it is disclosed later, it could lead to confusion and resentment.
HereAfter AI doesn’t promise to mitigate grief or replace loved ones who are gone. But it can, Vlaho says, connect the dead both to those who miss them and to those who’ve never met them.
“One of the fears of death is that the person slips away, that the memories slip away, that it all becomes faded and sepia-toned and vague,” Vlahos says. “This type of legacy AI technology doesn’t ease the sting of death, but what it does do is provide this much more rich, vivid and interactive way to remember.”