Grief, Chatbots, AI, and (Sort of) Talking With Dead People

Photoshoped before Photoshop: (left), photograph taken July 24, 1924, print with Stanley De Brath and (alleged) spirit face of Gustav Geley, from Stanley De Brath's 'The Physical Phenomena of Spiritualism' (1930); (right) alleged spirit photograph of the spiritualist Thomas Everitt, from John Lobb's 'The Busy Life Beyond Death, From the Voice of the Dead'. (1909) via Wikipedia, used w/o permissionFolks have a great many ways of dealing with grief and loss.

For example, folks at the hospital took a photo of our youngest daughter. She died shortly before birth. That photo’s on an ‘in loving memory of’ memorial card — I think that’s what it’s called — that’s tucked into the corner of our wedding picture.

Anyway: that card, the wedding picture, and photos of our four surviving children, hang on a wall near my desk. I like having a few visual reminders around.

Some folks apparently prefer more active, make that interactive, reminders. Like what I saw in my news feed this morning:

When grief and AI collide: These people are communicating with the dead
Samantha Murphy Kelly, CNN (May 6, 2024)

“When Ana Schultz, a 25-year-old from Rock Falls, Illinois, misses her husband Kyle, who passed away in February 2023, she asks him for cooking advice….

“…Or rather, his likeness in the form of an AI avatar does.

“‘He was the chef in the family, so I customized My AI to look like him and gave it Kyle’s name,’ said Schultz, who lives with their two young children. ‘Now when I need help with meal ideas, I just ask him. It’s a silly little thing I use to help me feel like he’s still with me in the kitchen.’…

“…The concept isn’t entirely new. People have wanted to reconnect with deceased loved ones for centuries, whether they’ve visited mediums and spiritualists or leaned on services that preserve their memory. But what’s new now is that AI can make those loved ones say or do things they never said or did in life, raising both ethical concerns and questions around whether this helps or hinders the grieving process….”

Particularly since Ana recognizes her AI avatar as “a silly little thing”, I don’t see her idea as a bad one. I wouldn’t take that option, but that’s because I’m me: and that’s several other topics.

The CNN piece discusses, very briefly, ethical issues, the psychology of grief, and what my culture calls privacy concerns.

I’ve got another topic lined up for this week, so I won’t be talking about why Saul’s Endor gambit was a really bad idea. (1 Samuel 28:319)

Given human nature — which isn’t all bad, and that’s another topic — and how we sometimes respond to grief; I figure it’s only a matter of time before someone monetizes chatbot mediums.

Then maybe I’ll talk about table tapping, tambourines, and making sense anyway.

And how silliness didn’t start with AI:

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About Brian H. Gill

I was born in 1951. I'm a husband, father and grandfather. One of the kids graduated from college in December, 2008, and is helping her husband run businesses and raise my granddaughter; another is a cartoonist and artist; #3 daughter is a writer; my son is developing a digital game with #3 and #1 daughters. I'm also a writer and artist.
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3 Responses to Grief, Chatbots, AI, and (Sort of) Talking With Dead People

  1. Sci-fi kinda expedites how we approach things like that use of AI, huh? Emphasis on “kinda” because of how I think things like intellectual property infringement seemed like one of the last things that would be hot topics now back then.

    • 😀 “Kinda”, indeed. Intellectual property issues – I don’t remember science fiction tales of my youth touching on that, not from the artificial intelligence angle at any rate.

      Finlay's (Virgil Finlay) Galaxy Magazine cover art (December 1956) via David S. Zondy's 'Tales of Future Past' Back then, the fear was more focused on robots replacing human workers – ‘taking our jobs’.

      That goes back at least to folklore like the story of John Henry, a “steel-driving man”. And, as I was growing up, the sort of data processing technology we now call spreadsheets.

      The concerns were, to an extent, justified. But – well, change happens.

      Although I’m one of ‘those creative types’, I don’t see AI art as a dire threat. Partly because I’ve long since retired. And partly because I see AI as a tool.

      Fearing the new technology makes about as much sense as fearing camel-hair brushes and oil-based pigments.

      Learning how to use this new technology – I’d be doing it now, if the household budget permitted. And that’s another topic.

      • No matter how justified it is, that fear of robots replacing human jobs is still around, it seems, and as a pretty sensitive guy, I feel like I’m going to learn about these new technologies slowly. Still, I’m thankful for not only open-minded but also God-centered folks like you, Mr. Gill!

Thanks for taking time to comment!