AI sparks ‘digital necromancy’ worries
Artificial intelligence allows more people to simulate the dead with digital avatars. As a result, concerns grow regarding the use of technology to simulate communicating with the deceased, also known as digital necromancy. Yet, many scientists claim these are exaggerated fears as they are only extensions of our long-standing ways of coping with grief.
The Inquirer Tech channel has been reporting on how AI has spread into every aspect of our lives. Unsurprisingly, people would apply it to more sensitive subjects like grieving. Nevertheless, we must tackle these trends as they will become more widespread. As a result, we could prepare for these changes.
This article will share examples of digital necromancy that uses artificial intelligence. Then, I will cover opinions from various experts regarding the subject.
How does ‘digital necromancy’ work?
The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation shared a recent story about a man using AI to recreate his dead father. Chris Zuger told CBC he missed their text message conversations and phone calls that covered their jokes and opinions.
That’s why he turned to ChatGPT to recreate those interactions. “I had a trove of his texts, his speech patterns,” he said. “Then, I said, ‘When I say hello, you respond back as this pattern,’ and it did.”
Zuger told the news outlet he only simulated a brief text conversation. Nonetheless, it helped him appreciate his relationship with his father, but initially, it was “eerie” and “unnerving.”
“If I wouldn’t have known anything, I would have assumed that that would have been him,” Zuger admitted. Yet, Zuger stated he benefited from the experience and believes others should try it, too.
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“There’s no linear path to acceptance or to not sort of getting over grief, but at least [make] it a part of yourself, that you can grow from it as an experience. It is something that we haven’t had in society before, and for a lot of people, it can be beneficial either directly or indirectly, like myself.”
He recognizes its limits, knowing “that what I was talking to was essentially something that I had created.” Zuger added, “It was not real. It was not actually my father.”
On the other hand, he feels empowered by the experience, thinking his father would love ChatGPT. “He would have been extremely amazed by it. He would try to make it do hilarious things and then show me and say this is cool. We would have had a lot of fun with it.”
Why are “digital necromancy” fears overblown?
The Conversation news website said AI dissenters worried that creating digital representations of the deceased may not reflect their past selves. Instead, they might act out someone else’s script.
Worse, they may violate their integrity as “zombified” digital manifestations. Yet, The Conversation argues these are exaggerated fears. Moments of crisis cause us to reflect on what those we have lost may have told us. Consequently, they inspire our present moments.
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Besides, we’ve been using images, texts, and other memorabilia to remember the deceased. We only rely on their digital counterparts nowadays, and we don’t treat those objects as if they are our actual loved ones.
Thus, the news website believes digital necromancy fears are wildly overblown. We only forget new technologies only reflect long-standing facets of our humanity. We only want things to help us remember past moments, whether a faded photograph or a digital avatar.
More people are using artificial intelligence to recreate their deceased loved ones. Nevertheless, sociologists say “digital necromancy” is not a major threat.
It is only a modernized way of reminiscing about the people we love. Yet, it is important to discuss such strange phenomena as more people worldwide have access to AI tools.
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