There's already a company that will turn your dying relatives into perverse AI homunculi for $50K

Ryan Gosling looking worse for wear looking up lit by purple light
(Image credit: Warner Bros.)

There's been plenty of controversy over AI deep fake videos and the digital necromancy of dead or aged actors (mostly in Star Wars), but how about taking that one step further? The company DeepBrain AI will collect audio and visual recordings of a loved one and then create an interactive AI version of them for you to speak with once they've passed.

A recent story from the BBC highlights some new players in "death tech," or the niche of technology startups offering services related to grief and mortality. Two of the companies profiled are, dare I say it, normal. You can use HereafterAI to collect recordings and pictures and save them for your loved ones, but the service doesn't seem to generate new text or audio⁠—the "AI" part seems to be its interactive user interface for easily creating, storing, and accessing this data. Settld, meanwhile, offers a service for canceling a departed loved one's financial and social accounts, removing a major logistical burden from the bereavement process.

Hoo boy, the third one though. DeepBrain AI CFO Michael Jung claims the company's AI likenesses carry a "96.5% similarity of the original person, so mostly the family don't feel uncomfortable talking with the deceased family member." I am dying to know how you quantify the profound and subjective experience of speaking to a loved one within a fraction of a percent.

Watching a video of this product in action from 2022 made me feel insane. "Husband Mr. Lee, who was sentenced to death, was worried about his wife who would be left alone, so decided to leave his digital twin for her." That's a hell of an opening, but benefit of the doubt says "sentenced to death" was just a poor bit of translation work for a figurative "death sentence" like a terminal illness⁠—I hope. The phrase "digital twin" makes my skin crawl though: it implies a kind of parity between the real person and the generated homunculus, a kind of techno-Tulpa that ought to be eliminated with extreme prejudice.

The footage of the avatars in action is bizarre too. Watching the two conversations on offer feels profoundly voyeuristic and invasive, but they're also minimally interactive⁠—absent context, I might have assumed these were merely pre-recorded messages, making me question the feasibility of the product. As a lover of games, I'm reminded of those "bullshot" pre-rendered trailers of E3s past that purported to show real gameplay.

Even assuming it works as advertised, I find the concept highly disturbing. The HereafterAI product is an organizational tool, no more controversial to my eye than keeping a loved one's letters or recordings the old fashioned way. DeepBrain AI threatens something else: a slurry of recorded "content" from a loved one shaped into a perverse puppet to manipulate the bereaved to the tune of $50,000.

Associate Editor

Ted has been thinking about PC games and bothering anyone who would listen with his thoughts on them ever since he booted up his sister's copy of Neverwinter Nights on the family computer. He is obsessed with all things CRPG and CRPG-adjacent, but has also covered esports, modding, and rare game collecting. When he's not playing or writing about games, you can find Ted lifting weights on his back porch.