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[Simulated Part Three] Building an AI afterlife: an exploration of new grief technology

An illustration featuring a woman sitting on a couch or bed looking down at an open laptop with tears streaming down her face. In the background is a dresser with a photo of a man surrounded by two lit candles. In the upper righthand corner of the illustration is that same man smiling with a text exchange showing. One message says "I miss you." Then there are two messages from the other conversation partner that read "I'm still here!" and then "Just in a different dimension."
Charnel Hunter

If you could speak again with a loved one who has passed away, would you? With recent advances in artificially intelligent grief tech, this question isn’t just hypothetical anymore.

When she first spoke with her AI parents, Charlotte Jee was delighted. Her digital mom asked her how she was doing and told her a story from her childhood. Her dad recounted a similarly nostalgic tale and asked if she’d like to listen to another. But AI Jane and Paul were trapped in Charlotte’s phone, unable to squeeze her hand or give her present-day advice. AI Jane and Paul were, and still remain, virtual avatars that exist only in the HereAfter AI app.

HereAfter AI is one of the many innovative examples of grief tech, software and programs that input text information, Facebook messages or hours of interviews to create a digital replica of a loved one that can preserve their memories after death. Host Anita Rao discusses the fascinating world of grief tech with Charlotte, the news editor at MIT Technology Review, including the reasoning and ramifications behind her AI parent experiment and insights into the evolving landscape of mourning with machines.

Anita also talks with Dr. Alexis Elder, associate professor of philosophy at the University of Minnesota Duluth, about how this seemingly futuristic technology fits in with longstanding traditions around grief and mourning. Plus, Alexis explains how ancient Chinese philosophy can help us imagine potential use cases and goals for this new technology.

A special thank you to Dr. Stephenie Lucas Oney for contributing to this episode!

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Gabriela Glueck is a producer for Embodied, a weekly radio show and podcast about sex, health and relationships.
Anita Rao is an award-winning journalist, host, creator, and executive editor of "Embodied," a weekly radio show and podcast about sex, relationships & health.