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This AI app will bring your relatives back to life. It’s spooky

With the help of artificial intelligence (AI) powered apps, you can create a virtual avatar that will interact with your loved ones after your death. Spooky or cute? I’ve decided to try out HereAfter AI – even though I’m not planning to die just yet.

At first, I thought it was a bit stilted and contrived. But then, just for a laugh, I yelled: “Spirits of the other side, hear me now – I conjure you up!”

And to my astonishment, it replied: "Hi, my name is Gintaras, I'm looking forward to telling you about my life." Definitely creepy.

That was recalled by my colleague Damien, who tried interacting with my virtual avatar, which I had just created on the HereAfter AI website. It took me several hours of clicking and thinking what on Earth to say, but the “Dead Gintaras” was finally ready to emerge from the other – virtual – world.

So to speak, of course. I’m not dead, obviously. I’m a 37-year-old dad. I don’t really work out, and I like my beers occasionally, but I’m rather healthy, and I feel good.

Nevertheless, HereAfter AI as a concept was just too interesting to bypass. Besides, death is the only guarantee in life, and maybe, just maybe, my kids will one day want to hear what I had to say. Also, in a way, you stay alive even after the burial, as creepy as it sounds.

Immortalizing your legacy

The HereAfter AI app is quite simple and not particularly sophisticated. You prerecord some memories and some photos or videos onto it, and after a bit of data crunching, your virtual avatar is alive and speaking.

"HereAfter is an app that lets you preserve meaningful memories about your life," reads the company's website, "and interactively share them with the people you love."

The program was founded by James Vlahos in 2019 after creating a bot based on his father from recordings made before he died. Vlahos then developed HereAfter AI and promised to “capture the true spirit of people and to enable their stories to become immortal.”

In essence, the tech works by training an AI on images, recordings, and footage of people to create a virtual form. The latter recognizes certain prompts and activates one of the prerecorded stories from the lips of the person who the so-called legacy avatar is based on.

It’s a sort of personalized chatbot, a text-based Siri that is able to answer questions about a person’s life based on information they provided when they were alive. Interaction is key – that’s how HereAfter AI goes beyond simply preserving the digital legacies of the deceased.

After a smooth sign-up, I went to lock myself in a dark room at the office and joined the chat room with a virtual interviewer. “Emily” (although I could choose “James” too) guided me through all the steps I needed to take in order to build my life-story avatar.

Is this real life?

For instance, I chose to tell a story from my childhood and my rebellious teenage years. I then uploaded a bunch of photos, some of which needed explaining, while others simply showed my family members, friends, or places I have traveled.

HereAfter AI virtual interview room. Image by Cybernews.

It took some time. It’s not that my life has been quite dull so far, this being the reason why I kept pausing and overthinking – it’s just that, from the very beginning, the exercise seemed a little forced.

It felt like I was giving birth to a humanoid being – there to lurk forever in the digital realm and awaken once prompted with recognizable keywords such as “family,” “friends,” “relationships,” or “travel.”

HereAfter AI is user-friendly, but not enough. Maybe it’s not smart enough, too – once my avatar was accessible and ready to speak with my colleague, it never felt like he was talking to a real person.

That’s, of course, a given. I’m supposed to be dead, and people interacting with my avatar should be aware they’re not actually talking to me. But longer-lasting Black Mirror-like “multi-turn conversations” are already available on more advanced apps, so maybe I should hold out hope for the future.

In any case, I wasn’t the only one feeling slightly weirded out by HereAfter AI. Damien, although interested in the idea, quickly found it a bit mundane.

“The interface needs a lot more work - I guess it depends on how much time the pre-deceased is willing to spend programming the app, and of course, how much they want to spend. But then why not splash out some money on your future seance - after all, as they say, you can't take it with you,” Damien told me after feeling out my avatar.

Then again, I’m not actually deceased, and Damien is not my offspring who might miss my voice and want to know more about my life.

Is this just fantasy?

The very fact that I’m alive most probably also could have tricked me into not feeling entirely comfortable with uploading all these recordings and photos onto the app. If I was dead, I wouldn’t care, naturally, but here I am – and I’m worried.

Yes, HereAfter AI says it would never sell user information to other businesses. And it assures that in the event that the company is forced to shut down, they “will give every customer the opportunity to download their life story recordings.”

Yet the original uploads will still hang around up there in the cloud. And if they do, technically, somebody might intercept them. I’m not sure I would be ok with that.

Also, I tried HereAfter AI voluntarily, but what if someone decides to create my digital replica against my wishes one day? Again, Vlahos told Financial Times recently that active consent is mandatory, but how would they really know?

Finally, I thought of my own conversations with my grandfathers or even my dad, who is alive and well, and I’m not sure older people really want to share that much stuff about, say, their difficult upbringing or old friendships – especially on an app and not in a real conversation.

To be honest, spilling the maximum amount of beans is just not natural for some, if not most of us humans – in a way, you want to stay true to yourself even if you’re dead, and creating a sort of digital myth somehow feels wrong.

All things considered, I’ve decided to prioritize proper live conversations with my loved ones and ended my free trial of HereAfter AI. I guess I’ve killed my avatar.


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