AI’s Impact on Death Explored in Sundance Films

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PARK CITY, Utah: Artificial intelligence promises to make death “optional” as the technology learns to perfectly emulate our personalities, memories, and dreams, keeping a version of ourselves alive long after our physical bodies have perished.

But if rapidly improving AI achieves its lofty goal of digital immortality — as its advocates believe it can — will it be a force for good or for evil?

“Eternal You” and “Love Machina,” two new documentaries that premiered at the Sundance movie festival this weekend, grapple with the question, exploring AI’s relationship to death from very different perspectives.

One examines how predatory AI-powered startups are already profiting from the vulnerability of bereaved customers, cashing in on their desperation to “speak to” avatars of their deceased loved ones beyond the grave.

“Eternal You” begins with a woman sitting at a computer, typing out messages to her deceased partner, who replies that he is afraid.

“Why are you scared?” she asks.

“I’m not used to being dead,” the avatar responds.

Directors Hans Block and Moritz Riesewieck first stumbled upon a handful of startups offering the chance to chat with deceased loved ones back in 2018.

Initially wondering if it was a cheap scam, the pair chronicled how the technology soon caught up with the marketing, and the industry exploded.

“I would say now there are thousands of services around the world offering these kinds of services,” said Riesewieck.

“And of course, Microsoft is collaborating with ChatGPT with OpenAI, and also Amazon took a look at what these startups are doing… it’s just a question of time.” Customers upload data about their partner, parent, or child, such as text messages and voice memos, which are used by AI to tailor responses.

The rise of AI-powered startups offering the opportunity to communicate with deceased loved ones raises profound ethical questions. On one hand, it provides solace and a sense of connection for those grieving the loss of a loved one. The ability to have conversations, albeit virtual, with someone who has passed away can bring comfort and closure.

However, the darker side of this emerging industry cannot be ignored. Predatory startups are taking advantage of vulnerable individuals, exploiting their grief for financial gain. These companies capitalize on the desperation of people longing for one last conversation with their departed loved ones, offering them the illusion of continued interaction.

While the technology behind these AI avatars has advanced significantly, the question of authenticity remains. Can an AI truly capture the essence of a person? Can it replicate their personality, memories, and dreams with accuracy? The ethical implications of creating digital versions of deceased individuals raise concerns about consent, privacy, and the potential for abuse.

Furthermore, the commercialization of grief raises questions about the commodification of human emotions. Are these services exploiting people’s vulnerability and emotional pain for profit? Should there be regulations in place to protect consumers from potential harm?

As AI continues to evolve and push the boundaries of what is possible, society must grapple with these ethical dilemmas. The promise of digital immortality raises profound questions about the nature of life, death, and the human experience. It is crucial to approach these advancements with caution and ensure that they are used for the greater good rather than becoming tools of exploitation.

Ultimately, the question of whether AI’s role in digital immortality is a force for good or evil depends on how it is developed, regulated, and utilized. As we navigate this uncharted territory, it is essential to consider the ethical implications and prioritize the well-being and consent of individuals.

Source: The Manila Times

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