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Chinese Embrace AI to Connect with Deceased Loved Ones

A growing trend in China sees mourners turning to artificial intelligence (AI) to reconnect with their departed family members, especially during the tomb-sweeping festival, reports The Guardian. For a minimal fee starting at 20 yuan (Rs 235 rupees), Chinese netizens can create digital avatars of their deceased relatives, enabling interactions with AI-generated versions of their loved ones. This shift reflects the broader integration of AI technology in commemorating the deceased.

One touching instance involves Bao Xiaobai, a Taiwanese singer who used AI to “bring back” his 22-year-old daughter, who passed away in 2022. With only a short audio recording of her voice, Bao dedicated over a year to experimenting with AI, resulting in a video of his daughter singing “happy birthday” to her mother, shared publicly in January.

The fascination with digital replicas coincides with the rapid growth of China’s AI industry in creating human-like avatars. Market estimates indicate that the value of “digital humans” reached 12 billion yuan in 2022 and is expected to quadruple by 2025. Livestreamers, integral to China’s tech scene, are increasingly utilizing AI to produce clones for continuous product promotion.

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Leading AI firm SenseTime showcased its prowess in this area by featuring a speech from its deceased founder, Tang Xiao’ou, at the company’s annual general meeting. Tang’s digital clone, trained on his video and audio clips, delivered a speech to employees, highlighting AI’s progress in replicating human behavior.

Despite the potential benefits of AI in honoring loved ones, controversies and ethical concerns have emerged. Some argue for regulation, particularly when AI-generated content is created without family consent or causes mental distress. Recently, social media users sparked outrage by using old footage of deceased singer Qiao Renliang to generate new content, upsetting his family.

As the tomb-sweeping festival approaches, during which families traditionally honor ancestors, Chinese digital natives are expected to explore digital afterlife options. This trend prompts discussions on the ethical boundaries of AI in grieving and the intersection of technology with tradition.

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