Science

New AI tool allows mourners to have conversations with the dead at their funeral

The idea of conversing with mourners at your own funeral may sound like the plot from the latest episode of Black Mirror. 

But it could become a reality, thanks to a Los Angeles-based startup, which has developed a ‘holographic conversational vido experience’.

StoryFile creates a digital clone of the subject by using 20 synchronised cameras to record them answering a series of questions.

Experts then process the footage, tagging clips and using it to train an artificial intelligence (AI) that can provide responses to these questions in natural language. 

The finished product is then uploaded to the StoryFile platform, which can be interacted with after the individual has passed away.

Those who attend their funeral are then able to speak with their loved one, as the technology creates the illusion of a real-time conversation.

The company worked with Star Trek’s William Shatner last year to create a hologram of himself that he said will help ‘preserve his memory and legacy for generations to come’.

StoryFile creates a digital clone of the subject by using 20 synchronised cameras to record them answering a series of questions

Experts then process the footage, tagging clips and using it to train an artificial intelligence (AI) that can provide responses to these questions in natural language

Experts then process the footage, tagging clips and using it to train an artificial intelligence (AI) that can provide responses to these questions in natural language

One of the first users of the technology was Marina Smith MBE - the mother of StoryFile's CEO Dr Stephen Smith - who died in June aged 87. Pictured: A screengrab from Marina's StoryFile

One of the first users of the technology was Marina Smith MBE – the mother of StoryFile’s CEO Dr Stephen Smith – who died in June aged 87. Pictured: A screengrab from Marina’s StoryFile

HOW A STORYFILE COMES TO LIFE

First, the person recording a StoryFile is filmed answering question about their life using special 3D video technology, depth kits and state-of-the-art sound equipment.

Experts then process the footage, tagging clips and using it to train an artificial intelligence to provide responses to natural language questions.

This finished product is then uploaded to the StoryFile platform, where people may then have a ‘real-life’ conversation with the film of the individual.

According to the developers, StoryFile works with ‘all connected devices’ as well as 3D, augmented reality and virtual reality systems. 

‘StoryFile captures the individual’s legacy in a way that no one else does by empowering them to pass on their values, struggles, life lessons, morals, decisions and more,’ the Los Angeles-based company said.

This, they added, comes ‘all while inspiring and delighting friends, family, and even future generations.’

One of the first users of the technology was Marina Smith MBE – the mother of StoryFile’s CEO Dr Stephen Smith – who died in June at the age of 87.

Dr Smith told The Telegraph: ‘Mum answered questions from grieving relatives after they had watched her cremation.

‘The extraordinary thing was that she answered their questions with new details and honesty. 

‘People feel emboldened when recording their data. Mourners might get a freer, truer version of their lost loved one.’

Mrs Smith lived a life of philanthropy, helping people in need in underdeveloped areas of the UK and the world through volunteering and setting up a non-profit.

She purchased a derelict farm in Nottinghamshire in 1978, which she and her husband initially turned into a Christian conference and retreat centre.

However, in 1995 they converted it into the National Holocaust Centre, and it remains the only museum in the UK dedicated to Holocaust education.

Mrs Smith was recognised on the Queen’s 2005 New Year’s Honours List with an MBE for services to Holocaust remembrance and education.

In January, she spent several hours over a two-day period recording answers to her Storyfile questions using a webcam and her computer.

At her funeral, held in Babworth on July 29, her hologram was able to deliver a speech about her life and spirituality, and speak to her loved ones. 

Dr Smith added: ‘What was most valuable to me as her son, was the fact that my mother was prepared to answer questions about her early childhood.

‘This included difficult topics such as the divorce of her parents and living as an immigrant from India. 

‘People feel emboldened when recording their data. Mourners might get a freer, truer version of their lost loved one.

‘Relatives were staggered by my mum’s new honesty at her funeral. She had previously been too embarrassed to reveal her true childhood.’

StoryFile worked with Star Trek's William Shatner last year to create a hologram of himself that he said will help 'preserve his memory and legacy for generations to come'

StoryFile worked with Star Trek’s William Shatner last year to create a hologram of himself that he said will help ‘preserve his memory and legacy for generations to come’

Launched in 2017, StoryFile was originally intended to preserve the stories of Holocaust survivors and other historical figures, before it was used at funerals.

An individual who wants to create a StoryFile will first choose topics they think their friends and family will want to ask about, such as relationships or childhood secrets.

They will then answer 75 of a bank of 250,000 potential questions with two-minute video answers, that can be transformed into their digital likeness.

It does not put words into the individual’s mouth, like a deepfake video, but if it is does not have an answer, the hologram will encourage the inquisitor to ask something else.

The StoryFile technology has been made available to the public as of this week for £39.99.

Amazon’s Alexa may soon be able to read you stories in the voice of a dead relative to help ‘make the memories last’ 

Amazon has revealed it is developing a system to let Alexa mimic any voice after hearing less than a minute of audio.

It could allow users of Amazon’s voice assistant to have stories read to them in the voice of a loved one – including a deceased friend or relative.

Alexa’s senior vice-president Rohit Prasad said the goal was to ‘make the memories last’ after ‘so many of us have lost someone we love’ during the pandemic.

Using the new technology, the company had been able to produce high-quality audio using just one minute of speech.

Read more here 

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