Wouldn’t it be nice to get another chance to communicate with someone we have lost? That’s what a funeral agency in Sweden hopes to give to people but not in the way you think.
Fenix, a Sweden-based agency, is looking to create artificial intelligence that can offer comfort to devastated people by giving them the chance to talk to dead loved ones. While it would be an interesting thought to be able to speak to “fully conscious copies of dead relatives,” Fenix’s mission is to develop a chatbot that contains files of the deceased and make them seem like the actual person.
Swedish funeral agency Fenix is looking for volunteers for the chat bot project.
The chatbot will be powered by AI to comfort grieving people who lost their loved ones.
There have been reports relaying false information about Fenix’s goal. In some news outlets, it was stated that Swedish scientists are trying to develop androids that will serve as “clones” of deceased loved ones. However, Fenix is not trying to achieve that feat but will, instead, upload information about the dead person. This chatbot will then communicate as if it were the person by analysing the way that person talks through uploaded information, like emails, texts or how he/she interacts on social media.
The project started out when Fenix CEO Charlotte Runius realized people can’t really tell that their current chatbot — used to answer people’s questions about the funeral services — is not a real person. Runius then thought that a similar technology can be used to offer mourning relatives the comfort they need and the chance to be able to speak to deceased loved ones.
Runius emphasized that the AI is not fully conscious, as falsely reported by some news outlets.
The Fenix CEO wants to clarify that the chatbot cannot learn new information but rather only rely on the information provided. For instance, one cannot chat about a new movie that has just been released. While most people can only rely on videos and photographs to remember loved ones by, Fenix’s technology hopes to take this to a new level.
Chatting with a loved one through a program may make moving on more difficult.
There may be emotional implications of having a chatbot posing as someone from the past. Runius said she will still have to discuss the matter with the Swedish Church. Some would argue that communicating with a loved one through a chatbot will only make the process of letting go harder. Others, however, agree that the chatbot will provide comfort. Runius explained:
“For example, for an old man who has lost his wife and feels very lonely it may be worthwhile to chat with the bot online, even if he knows it’s not really her.”
The chatbot for mourning relatives is only capable of communicating through text. This is the reason Fenix is looking for volunteers to share speech samples so the program can also use voice mode that makes the bot sound like the deceased person. In the future, Fenix hopes to incorporate images as well.