Reuniting with those who have passed will become a commercially available service in the near future. That being said if you had the opportunity to use the technology to visit a loved one, celebrity, musician or anyone you wish who has died, would you?
Mother meets deceased Child in VR
Although the technology is not commercially available currently, the technology does already exist. A documentary was recently aired in Korea where a mother gets to reunite with her daughter through the use of virtual reality, photogrammetry and motion capture. In one of the scenes in the documentary the mother revisits a virtual version of a park the family would visit regularly. Her daughter laughs playfully and carefully asks her mum if she’s afraid. In another scene the virtual reality replica of the families daughter asks her father to stop smoking and her siblings to stop fighting each other. As you would expect, the reunion via VR is extremely emotional, the mother cries the moment she lays eyes on her virtual daughter whilst the rest of the family watch the reunion unfold.
What could go wrong?
Having the opportunity to meet a loved one again could seem exciting but there is plenty that could go wrong causing a bereaved brain unimaginable levels of mental anguish. There are a number of obvious ethical issues, but so much more that could actually go wrong. Bugs in the program could cause someone you are visiting to glitch and appear broken, hackers could penetrate a system and plant malicious code to make your loved one act out of character, or even worse, display or use the most foul language or behaviour with the intention to shock and hurt. The commercial side should also be considered, would your loved one be spewing advertising at you or encouraging you to use a service? We are well aware of the ethical issues and know a close bond with a loved one coupled with the high emotions of the experience could lead to a vulnerable and heartbroken person making decisions they will later regret.
The most dangerous risk for someone who has made the decision to use the technology is the risk of the AI getting it slightly wrong, with the loved one sounding auto tuned or not looking quite like they did in reality. This could easily happen if the technology used to replicate the loved one has a limited amount of photos and video recordings which will enable it to recreate the loved one in Virtual Reality.
For or against?
There is a mixed reaction to the Korean documentary and the technology as a whole. Some see the technology as a form of grief therapy or therapeutic experience which could be used to help loved ones through the grieving process. Others see the opportunity to allow people to say ‘one last thing’ to the loved one who has passed and get closure. Some feel it’s simply exploitation, unhealthy and could cause unnecessary re-traumatization or addiction to this new virtual world spending more time in it than the real one. Would we have to regulate it and how would we ensure those using the technology are in the correct mental state?
Too many questions and not enough answers at this point, but the biggest question of all, Would you?