Tech company lets you chat with your dead loved ones

People can now chat with interactive AI versions of their deceased loved ones thanks to a new app.

It works by storing people’s pre-recorded life stories and presenting them in a conversational format.

HereAfter AI’s ‘Life Story Avatar’ allows the dead to live on as chats on demand, in their recorded voice.

Surviving loved ones can interact with the customised voice avatar via a smart speaker, mobile or desktop app, and it responds, through Alexa-like voice recognition technology, with prerecorded stories, memories, jokes, songs and even advice.

HereAfter AI is an app designed to understand a wide range of commonly asked life story questions and to find and play the most appropriate answers.

For example, you could ask questions like ‘what was your earliest memory?’ or ‘how did you meet mom?’ and immediately hear your loved one’s recorded answer.

When CEO James Vlahos learned that his father had been diagnosed with terminal lung cancer in 2017, he created the Dadbot, a chatbot that shares his life story and unique personality.

‘Dadbot was a transformational experience for me because it gave me great solace,’ says Vlahos, a former tech journalist and author of Talk To Me, a book on conversational AI. 

‘It didn’t replace my dad, but it gave us this really rich way to remember him,’ he told Cnet. 

HereAfter AI’s CTO Kevin Bowden had also experienced the pain of losing a parent. 

Recognising that the desire to preserve rich and vibrant memories of loved ones is universal, the duo launched HereAfter AI to give people the ability to immortalise their stories.

‘Our app understands common life story questions that family members ask and finds the right stories and answers,’ says their website. So, instead of listening to hours of disorganized audio, HereAfter AI gives people the content they want in short, engaging stories.

To become a Life Story Avatar, people need to sign up and actively participate. Using a web and mobile app, people answer questions from a virtual interviewer that asks questions about all aspects of their lives and records their spoken replies. People can also upload photos to illustrate their words. 

Later, friends and family of the deceased can pay for access to the avatars and ask them questions that are answered in their recorded voice.

Chosen family members access your memories simply by asking questions on the app which replies with stories, memories, and advice in the recorded voice of the person who created it.

‘My grandson can learn from my experience using my voice,’ says one HereAfter AI user, Ramesh K.

While recording your stories is free, plans for sharing the avatars with family and friends start at £37 a year. Users also have the option to download the entire audio recordings for £72.

While HereAfter AI doesn’t promise to mitigate grief or replace loved ones who are gone, it does connect the dead to those who miss them, and to the family they’ve never met. The service currently has several hundred users, according to Vlahos.

‘While HereAfter AI does store the recordings that have been made, we do not distribute or monetize them in any alternate way, such as data mining for advertising,’ says the company’s website. 

The service also offers a way to organise memories so that only you and the people you directly authorise can access your content, making it secure.

HereAfter AI is one of a number of startups promising digital immortality through chatbots, AI and even holograms like the ones of Holocaust survivors’ stories. A Japanese project even envisions robots that look and act like the dead. 

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