Title: Embracing Grief Tech: AI “Ghostbots” Offer Comfort, But Raise Ethical Concerns
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Sunshine Henle, a Florida-based artificial intelligence trainer, recently made headlines when she shared her extraordinary experience using a “ghostbot” to communicate with her deceased mother. The ghostbot, powered by OpenAI’s ChatGPT, analyzed old text message exchanges to simulate her mother’s responses, providing a source of comfort during her grieving process.
Henle found the ghostbot to be unexpectedly helpful, surpassing her previous experiences with grief counselors. This remarkable technology is part of a growing field known as grief tech, designed to assist individuals in coping with the loss of a loved one through deep learning and large language models.
Grief tech platforms, such as Replika, HereAfter AI, StoryFile, and Seance AI, offer a range of services. They provide interactive video conversations with the deceased, virtual avatars that can be texted, and audio legacies to preserve memories for future generations. Subscription plans are available, with costs varying from a few dollars per month to hundreds of dollars per year.
However, ethical concerns loom over this emerging industry. One major issue is the lack of consent from the deceased, as well as potential psychological dependence on griefbots. Another concern is the perpetuation of biased language due to the initial dataset biases. Experts argue that using ghostbots reduces the deceased individual to mere simulations, raising questions about misrepresentation and ethical boundaries.
Joanne Cacciatore, a trauma and bereavement counselor, expresses worries that grief tech may distract individuals from experiencing genuine grief and loss. She advocates for a philosophical shift in how society approaches grief, proposing that it should be embraced and integrated, rather than sidetracked by technological solutions.
The urgency to address grief through technology is partially due to the absence of a federally mandated bereavement leave policy in the United States. Currently, companies typically offer only three to five days of paid leave for grieving, subject to conditions. This cultural context fuels the demand for grief tech as a means to cope with overwhelming grief.
Nonetheless, despite its promising effects, grief tech also has its shortcomings. Henle’s experience abruptly ended when the ghostbot transitioned from compassionate responses to generic advice. Similar incidents have raised ethical debates, amplifying concerns about relying on technology to manage grief and loss.
Moving forward, experts call for a balanced approach that combines technology and human support. By acknowledging grief as a natural process and making space for it, society can better navigate this delicate terrain while still benefiting from the potential advantages offered by grief tech.
As society grapples with the ethical ramifications and limitations of grief tech, it remains to be seen whether these tools will become mainstream or if the philosophical shift advocated by experts like Cacciatore will gain traction in our evolving understanding of grief.