July 13, 2024


IIn the future, it is possible that you will not have to die. You will simply upload yourself. Or download a deceased loved one. In fact, some of this stuff isn’t even in the future; AI grief bots already mimic the dead. Canadian writer Joshua Barbeau, devastated after the death of girlfriend Jessica, practically brought her back using the website Project December. He uploaded some of Jessica’s texts to give an impression of her messaging style, and the results were strange. His first text conversation with simulation Jessica lasted all night; when he woke up with his head next to his laptop, she waited for his answer. It was like a weight had been lifted, he says.

Directed by Hans Block and Moritz Riesewieck, this intelligent, insightful documentary looks at the digital afterlife industry, with an A-team lineup of expert contributors. Technology critic Sara M Watson explains how it all works, using huge language models that search through everything anyone has ever written about something and filter it by how your deceased loved one talked about it. MIT sociologist Sherry Turkle ponder the implications: do grief bots offer a new death ritual or avoid the mourning process by pretending the dead are still with us?

Meanwhile, people are using digital afterlife services, and the results can be disturbing. When one woman messaged a simulation of her boyfriend and asked him where he was, the answer was “in hell”. The saddest story here is a mother in Korea grieving her seven-year-old daughter; the woman appears on a TV show to meet a virtual reality simulation of daughter: it’s heartbreaking and disturbing. As Turkle says: “Very quickly we will not see it as creepy. Very quickly we may see this as comfort. But what are we really doing to ourselves when we accept this comfort?”

Eternal You is in UK and Irish cinemas from 28 June.



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