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World News

New report warns Christians against falling into the 'trap' of griefbots

by Lydia Davies

A Christian think tank has highlighted the dangers of griefbots, claiming they are "deceptive" and bring about privacy, ethical and theological concerns.

What's been recently dubbed virtual immortality technology uses Artificial Intelligence (AI) and information collected about a dead person's character, experiences, beliefs and opinions to enable a loved one to maintain a relationship with them through back-and-forth conversations on an app.

Early versions of 'griefbots', also known as 'ghostbots', are being trialled worldwide, signalling a growing market for digital products and services aimed at processing grief.

A new report entitled AI and the Afterlife: From Digital Mourning to Mind Uploading found that while such technology isn't extremely popular, interest is there among young people, with 24 per cent of 18-24-year-olds being interested in creating a digital version of a loved one.

Dr Nathan Mladin, who wrote the report, has many concerns as a "flurry" of start-up companies are introducing such simulations.

"There are privacy concerns, concerns to do with consent, and how that data is procured," he told Premier Christian News.

"Can someone just collect articles that you or I might have written and publicly available images with us and just create a digital replica of us and put it out there after we have died, or even while we're alive? These are all huge questions that our society in this AI revolution kind of context is having to grapple with.

"There's existing legislation to cover some of these things, but with some applications, it's slightly more behind and it needs to catch up."

While the report explores whether such technology is a more advanced version of people trying to keep a loved one's memory alive by keeping locks of hair or stuffing a teddy bear with clothes a child has worn, Mr Mladin strongly advises Christians to reject any technology that mimics talking to the dead.

"We now have the possibility of talking to these simulations and having these simulations talk back at you; that's where we are particularly concerned because that feels like intrinsically deceptive," he continued.

"Having a very realistic image avatar of your brother or your sister or your parents talk back at you; there is real potential there for being deceived. Not that the creators want to deceive you directly, but you're still being deceived because you think you're interacting with the actual presence of your loved one. And, in fact, it's a bot that's been trained on some data".

He acknowledged that grief could be a hard thing to process but encouraged Christians to remember the Bible's teaching on death and life.

"I think a lot of people who have abandoned or have just never really fully grasped the reality of eternity and the promise of resurrection life are reaching for these things as a way of creating an afterlife.

"But for those of us who have an enduring hope [we remember], indeed death is not the end, it's a passageway, it's sleep.

"If you take Jesus's words to heart and you take that seriously, then we have a better hope that we will see our loved ones after death. So I think this is more of a trap that we should avoid, than something we should step into," Dr Mladin concluded. 

The report is the last of a series of research reports from Theos on changing patterns in death and dying in the UK.

Listen to Premier's interview with Dr Mladin here: 

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