Digital Resurrections and Advanced Grieving Technologies on the Horizon

The importance of remembering lost loved ones in a tangible way has always been a consistent part of the grieving process. Whether this involves looking through photos and emails, watching an old video or replaying their answering machine message, many people find solace in memorializing the deceased this way.

However, the surge in digital technology has opened the door to other, unique ways to remember. Many companies and organizations saw an opportunity here, a few including, Luka, Lyrebird and MIT Media Lab, have begun to experiment with “digital resurrection technology”. Researchers are taking a person’s email and text message data to generate chatbots that closely replicate the conversation and messaging style of the dead individual. Thus, people can feel like they are texting and having back and forth conversations with their dead husband, sister, child etc. In the future, scientists hope to capture all a person’s online data (social media posts, pictures, videos, emails, texts, emojis, comments…any cyberspace activity) to more accurately reflect the person’s essence and personality, down to their values, opinions and beliefs.

And the future doesn’t stop there. Companies are also considering the power of virtual reality – using this online data collection to create virtual replicas of people. With VR, people could sit out on their patio, enjoy a nice dinner or watch a movie with their deceased relative or friend. By using a bodysuit and gloves with sensors and actuators, it may even be possible to physically interact with these people, aside from just conversing with them.

Bruce Duncan, managing director of a nonprofit that promotes digital resurrections, Terasem Movement Foundation, handles one of the world’s most advanced social robots, Bina48. Bina48 was modeled after the real woman Bina Aspen, after 100s of hours of compiling her memories, feelings and beliefs. This has the potential to bring virtual reality, to (almost) reality.

Supporters of these advanced grieving and memorializing technologies say that they will aid the grieving process as it will bring added comfort and people already engage in similar grieving processes on a less “techy” scale. On the other hand, a lot of people think they are far too creepy and will likely intensify feelings of sadness, loneliness and loss – ultimately preventing survivors from moving on.

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