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Man uses recordings of late father to create AI-powered chatbot, sparking mixed responses

James learned of his father's cancer in 2016. Using hours of audio recordings he created a 'Dadbot.'

Man uses recordings of late father to create AI-powered chatbot, sparking mixed responses
Cover Image Source: YouTube | WIRED

Have you ever thought about using artificial intelligence to help cope with the loss of a loved one? James Vlahos, a businessman from California, created a unique way to preserve his father's memories using an AI-powered chatbot, according to BBC. In 2016, he learned that his father had terminal cancer. "I loved my dad, I was losing my dad," Vlahos shared. His first step was to record his dad's life story through an oral history project.


The man shared with WIRED how he carried out the audio recordings with his father. They both were sitting across from each other and Vlahos was wondering how to carry on the recording. That's when his father gave him a paper in which he wrote a basic outline- "Family History," "Family," "Education," "Career," and "Extracurricular" and told his son that he wanted to start documenting immediately. "As my audio recorder runs, he describes how he used to explore caves when he was growing up; and how he took a job during college loading ice blocks into railroad boxcars. How he fell in love with my mother, became a sports announcer, a singer, and a successful lawyer," wrote Vlahos in the article. 

This was also happening when Vlahos was looking forward to having a career in AI, so he knew where to start. He wrote, "I dream of creating a Dadbot—a chatbot that emulates not a children’s toy but the very real man who is my father. And I have already begun gathering the raw material: those 91,970 words that are destined for my bookshelf." He also spoke about why he really wanted to create Dadbot. "For a way to more richly keep his memories, and some sense of his personality, which was so wonderful, to keep that around," Vlahos told BBC. Unfortunately, his dad died in 2017 but thankfully before that, Vlahos had already recorded his voice into an AI-powered chatbot. So now, he has a chatbot that can answer all the questions about his father's life.

However, Vlahos shared that though the technology didn't take away the pain that he felt after he lost his dad it sure gave him "more than I otherwise would have." "It's not him retreating into this very fuzzy memory. I have this wonderful interactive compendium I can turn to." The businessman later made his chatbot into an app and business called HereAfter AI. The app helps people to record their life stories for loved ones. Despite many companies beginning to use AI for similar purposes, psychologist Laverne Antrobus believes that one needs to be careful while using "grief tech." "Loss is something that catches us out," she told BBC.

"You can think you're pretty much close to being OK, then something can take you right back." She suggested that people should not be in a hurry to use the chatbot of a person who has passed away. Antrobus said, "You'd have to feel quite solid before using something like this. Take things very, very slowly." She advises that there is nothing better than human support when it comes to overcoming grief. "I can't quite envisage a place for technology to take over the more traditional aspects of grieving, which are around feeling close to people, feeling cared for, feeling appreciated."


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