Rememory, the act of talking to the dead, is an idea as old as man himself. For pagans, it was a means of venerating ancestors who had passed. In Christianity, it remains the belief in afterlife through purgatory, heaven, or hell. What used to be science fiction for some and customary beliefs for others has now become a reality, by using the artificial intelligence technology created by DeepBrain AI.
According to the company founded in South Korea, rememory is “the virtual human service based on AI technology that recreates the clients’ late family members, by mimicking their every aspect – from their physique to their voice.”
What it offers is “a service for those that wish to immortalize their loved one’s story of life through a virtual human”.
Yet as far-fetched as that may be, the AI gadget developed seems to have rapidly caught interest. In the past two years alone, DeepBrain Inc. has been honored twice at the CES Innovation awards for rememory.
Be Right Back
DeepBrain AI is not the first to develop technology that enables people to speak to those who have passed. In film, there was a Black Mirror episode titled Be Right Back, in which a new service offers to converse with the dead, much like rememory.
In 2019, it became a reality when the California based company HereAfter AI created an app that permitted family and friends to “preserve memories…about your life. Then, let loved ones hear meaningful stories by chatting with the virtual you”.
Charlotte Jee, a news editor at MIT Technology Review, tried out the interactive memory app last year using a digital replica of her parents and wrote about her experience in the review.
“My parents don’t know that I spoke to them last night,” she wrote. “At first, they sounded distant and tinny, as if they were huddled around a phone in a prison cell. But as we chatted, they slowly started to sound more like themselves. They told me personal stories that I’d never heard. I learned about the first (and certainly not last) time my dad got drunk. Mum talked about getting in trouble for staying out late. They gave me life advice and told me things about their childhoods, as well as my own. It was mesmerizing.”
The question is not only how such artificial intelligence will change the way we grieve, but also the human race on its whole. If AI can cook Thanksgiving dinner and create music, then what’s left for humans to do? Just think of Matrix.
Jee wrangled with the issue after conducting her experiment but in the end she put it quite simply. “My real, flesh-and-blood parents are still alive and well. [T]heir virtual versions were just made to help me understand the technology. But their avatars offer a glimpse at a world where it’s possible to converse with loved ones…long after they’re gone.”
From 18th Century Spiritualism to modern-day AI
Spiritualism, or communing with the dead as its adherers called it in the 18th century, was once “so culturally prevalent …at the time even skeptics and dabblers felt compelled to explore it. Mark Twain, Frederick Douglass, and Queen Victoria all attended séances.”
So stated Casey Cep in an article he wrote for The New Yorker entitled ‘Why Did So Many Victorians Try to Speak with the Dead?’. His answer was “The dread of mortality has always inspired the dream of immortality.”
And that is exactly what DeepBrain AI has set out to do through the developing of AI technology. The advancement of the world with artificial intelligence, is their mission statement. A world “where humans and technology continuously interact with each other”.
Whether one sees it as a dystopian film or ‘deep fake technology’, it does now actually exist. Furthermore, it will continue existing as long as it progressively learns to adapt to society’s perceived needs. One of which is dealing with human loss.
DeepBrain: a virtual human company
DeepBrain rememory artificial intelligence works by collecting data on the deceased subject such as photos and videos that allow the AI system to mimic facial expressions, personal mannerisms, and speech. The bereaved can then choose from several different types of virtual experiences through video calls with their dearly departed. These include the “AI Memorial Services” and the “reuniting experience”, which initiates birthdays, holidays, anniversaries and so on.
Still, the services they offer are not without controversy. “We’ve already found it to be really polarising,” Joseph Murphy, the company’s business development manger, told The Daily Mail. “Some people love the opportunity to live on forever in this way, but many…view it as inauthentic”.
Those who love the thought of being eternally immortalized, do so, he states, because “they can share their memories after they’re gone, and they want their family to remember them in a healthy state”.
Nevertheless, in his words, rememory was “best suited for people with terminal illness such as cancer.”
Yet its critics beg to differ. As Sue Gill of Cruse Bereavement Support told The Mail “This sounds bizarre and ghoulish. Lots of people, when they know they are dying, write letters or journals for make recordings. That’s using modern technology at its best. This feels like they are preying on the bereaved”.
Credibility and costs
There are also concerns about AI technology’s credibility. According to Dr. Daskalakis, MIT Professor of Computer Science, it is something that could pose a serious problem. “There are big issues of reliability and one of the reasons is that when the data you feed the algorithm are incomplete or unrepresentative, can lead to faulty or insufficient mental functions,” he stated at a conference at Aristotle University in Thessaloniki.
“For example, why did a (driver-less) electric car smash into a truck stopped in the left lane? Maybe because the data that was entered to train the algorithm did not include the possibility that a car has stalled in the left lane of the highway because this is rarely happening.”
Lastly, using Deep Brain’s rememory will cost somewhere in the region of $12,325 to $24,650 U.S. dollars to create a digital copy of the deceased. Additionally, each conversation will be to the tune of $1232. Otherwise said, not readily available to all.