For some, it’s a dream come true, and for others, it only brings more grief. The first funerals where deceased persons appear as digital clones or holograms with the help of AI and, for example, give a speech or talk to the guests, are no longer scenes that are only known from science fiction novels. Even though technological progress in this area is advancing, the Dutch funeral industry BGNU warns that more rules are being introduced in dealing with the virtual person who has passed away.

Last year, it became possible for a family from England to talk to their deceased grandmother at her own funeral. However, this happened not with the real grandmother, but with her digital clone. This resulted in a bizarre spectacle in which the clone of the deceased grandmother gave a short speech during her funeral and talked to the mourners. When asked, the digital clone was also able to tell anecdotes from the grandmother’s life that even some relatives didn’t know about.

The trend of virtual goodbyes has been supported and increasingly developed by technology companies for some time. For example, Microsoft has developed a chatbot that creates a lifelike effect on the deceased by extracting data from that person’s social media messages and photos. In addition, Amazon, with its Alexa voice assistant, has managed to imitate voices in such a way that survivors can talk to the deceased person.

The Dutch funeral industry BGNU advises that those who wish to be represented by chatbots or holograms after their death should already specify this in their will. However, director Brigitte Wieman of the BGNU is skeptical about this development and emphasizes that “there should at least be rules that regulate the rights”. “Because who is allowed to determine whether data, messages, and images of a person are used by AI after his death? There really needs to be an investigation into that,” Wieman says. According to BNGU, artificial intelligence (AI) makes a lot possible, “but should you want it? It becomes problematic when a bereaved person cannot let go of someone,” the AD writes.

However, the Dutch funeral industry has little to no experience with the use of AI. “That is because most funerals are of elderly people. They often do not have technology high on their wish list,” Wieman explains. However, this is changing bit by bit. “Europe is now taking the first steps on AI legislation. We therefore argue for flexibility in the Burial Care Act so that it can be adapted relatively quickly to new technology. We need to think about this quickly, determine where the boundaries lie and how things should be formally arranged,” she told the newspaper.

Experts also believe that more regulations need to be introduced by the government for this type of farewell. According to Wieman, this development will have a serious impact on the funeral industry in the near future. “We need to work together quickly to develop new norms, values, and rules. AI will play a role, and perhaps one day we will live on virtually. How all these possibilities will affect us humans and our mourning is really hard to say,” Wieman stresses.

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