By David Pugh-Jones, CMO of Cudo
Imagine if you could communicate with past loved ones, historical figures and science leaders for comfort, guidance or education. No, we are not talking about Ouija boards or seances, but the advances in technology that turn the supernatural into everyday interactions. Most of the technology to enable this already exists in some form, from Human Digital Twins (HDT) to the ever-expanding Metaverse, and others are firmly in the making – just look at the tech giants competing to perfect the most sophisticated generative AI. Put together, these technologies bring the commercialisation of the digital afterlife almost within reach.
So, what purpose would creating hyper-realistic experiences with the dead serve? When looking at the use cases for this type of technology, grief management offers countless applications. Losing someone can have devastating consequences across all areas of life, from mental health to personal relationships and even work productivity. Being able to mitigate the impact could have a positive effect on society. For example, the technology could allow terminally ill parents to continue to play a part in their children’s lives or help capture the personalities of people with degenerative cognitive diseases.
In addition to applications around the psychology of loss, it could enable the creation of more interactive and truly immersive experiences for education or entertainment. The potential is endless, from learning about history from the people who were there to having renowned scientists pass on their skills in the Metaverse.
Towards real interaction
The desire to communicate with the dead is nothing new, but in the past couple of years, the goal has become more realistic. California-based Hereafter.ai, for example, interviews people while they are alive and creates stories based on those discussions to share with loved ones after death. StoryFile, on the other hand, enables users to have a simulated conversation with their dead loved ones based on pre-recorded responses. Even household devices like Amazon’s Alexa are reaching to the other side, enabling users to recreate and use the voice of someone who is no longer alive.
Still, the pre-recorded, text-based nature of these technologies is limiting. To achieve a genuinely interactive solution that cannot only think and feel like the real person but also look and act like them, the efforts need to focus on enhancing behavioural resemblance and experiential immersiveness.
This requires the combined efforts of AI, HDTs, behaviour prediction, virtual reality and the Metaverse.
Adding detail to the dead
For successful commercialisation, the virtual experience needs to be hyperrealistic. Taking the experience to the next level requires an accurate digital and behavioural replica of the person, which calls for a high level of AI autonomy.
Recent advances in AI have made it possible to create a digital clone of a person, which allows the creation of unlimited video content with minimal text prompts. These deep fakes are convincing, but the interactivity element is lacking. This is where HDTs can play a key role. By collecting behavioural and physical data through smart sensors, including wearable devices, it’s possible to replicate a person’s characteristics, composition, and performance in the digital world. Some Metaverse companies have already started to pave the way for this, with Somnium Space, for example, offering users the Live Forever mode, which continuously records their personal data for future AI analysis to develop a more realistic and lifelike avatar. DeepBrain AI takes a slightly different approach in its Re;memory, using AI to create a simple digital twin of a deceased person based on existing videos, photos and voice recordings, to enable short real-time reunions with them.
Ultimately, behavioural analysis is then needed to make the person act as they did in real life. With advanced behavioural prediction models embedded in the HDT, it would be possible to achieve a digital clone that could realistically mimic the actual person’s behaviour.
Finally, to bring the apparition to life, we need to bridge the gap between the physical and virtual worlds. This is where the Metaverse and interactive technologies, such as VR headsets, come in, offering a medium for various interactions and activities.
While the proposal is attractive, it doesn’t come without challenges. Building the digital representation of a person takes a vast amount of data collected over a long period. Enabling real-time interaction requires a flawless 5G or 6G network to deliver the precision required, and many processes, such as 3D hologram rendering, require substantial computing power.
The unpredictable nature of generative AI also poses risks. You only need to look at recent failed interactions with ChatGPT, Google’s Bard or the Microsoft Bing chatbot to see where some of the pitfalls lie. It’s one thing for a generative AI to misunderstand the purpose of the interaction or give rude or factually incorrect replies, but if this comes from a digital clone of a loved one or a renowned scientist, the consequences could be devastating for all parties involved.
Of course there are questions about ethics, morality, safety, data privacy, and the structures required to oversee the development and use of the technology that demand further research.
As the above examples outline, most of the technologies required already exist in some form. Next, development needs to focus on enhancing on-demand computational capacity to deliver the capabilities required for data generation, capture and processing – a more sustainable approach to computing is here. In the long term, more research is still needed on the societal side to achieve a deeper understanding of human consciousness to create more accurate abstractions in the digital realm.
Advanced generative AI, behaviour modelling, HDTs, and the continuous expansion of the Metaverse, are building blocks of the digital afterlife. Embedding these technologies to the psychological, societal and regulatory complexities surrounding death can help ensure that once summoned, the digital representations deliver on their promise.