Conversing With the Departed Lifelike avatars of deceased loved ones, a new market in video generation

Jun 26, 2024
Reading time
2 min read
Conversing With the Departed: Lifelike avatars of deceased loved ones, a new market in video generation

Advances in video generation have spawned a market for lifelike avatars of deceased loved ones.

What’s new: Several companies in China produce interactive videos that enable customers to chat with animated likenesses of dead friends and relatives, MIT Technology Review reported

How it works: Super Brain and Silicon Intelligence have built such models for several thousand customers. They provide a modern equivalent of portrait photos of deceased relatives and a vivid way to commune with ancestors.

  • The developers use undisclosed tools to stitch photos, videos, audio recordings, and writings supplied by customers into interactive talking-head avatars of deceased loved ones.
  • The cost has dropped dramatically. In December 2023, Super Brain charged between $1,400 and $2,800 for a basic chat avatar wrapped in a phone app. Today it charges between $700 and $1,400 and plans eventually to drop the price to around $140. Silicon Intelligence charges between several hundred dollars for a phone-based avatar to several thousand for one displayed on a tablet.

Behind the news: The desire to interact with the dead in the form of an AI-generated avatar is neither new nor limited to China. In the U.S., the startup HereAfter AI builds chatbots that mimic the deceased based on interviews conducted while they were alive. Another startup, StoryFile, markets similar capabilities to elders (pitched by 93-year-old Star Trek star William Shatner) to keep their memory alive for younger family members. The chatbot app Replika began as a project by founder Eugenia Kuyda to virtually resurrect a friend who perished in a car accident in 2015. 

Yes, but: In China, language models struggle with the variety of dialects spoken by many elders.

Why it matters: Virtual newscasters and influencers are increasingly visible on the web, but the technology has more poignant uses. People long to feel close to loved ones who are no longer present. AI can foster that sense of closeness and rapport, helping to fulfill a deep need to remember, honor, and consult the dead.

We’re thinking: No doubt, virtual avatars of the dead can bring comfort to the bereaved. But they also bring the risk that providers might manipulate their customers’ emotional attachments for profit. We urge developers to focus on strengthening relationships among living family and friends.


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