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Grief Storytelling Today vs. Tomorrow with AI
My fresh perspectives
How are you? I hope you’re doing well. I sure have missed writing you in the past two weeks.
If you may recall in my last story I mentioned I’d be away for two weeks due to family matters.
The reason was my dad passed away two weeks ago and I had to fly back to Tel Aviv, my hometown.
Next month he would have been 91 years old. He led quite a full and active life, so much that until his late 80s he was still going to the gym every day.
Vitamin E (Exercise), remember?
The turning point (AKA Inciting Incident) happened two years ago when he fell on his head while riding the escalator in a nearby shopping mall.
This event gradually threw him into severe dementia. Good thing I was able to see him during my last visit in November.
As you know, every significant life event within our personal sphere such as bereavment or external, say Covid - gives us time to pause from our routines and reevaluate everything from a distance.
Things I’ve Noticed
First, some context; the Jewish bereavement custom is to stay home for the “Shiva” (the word 7 in Hebrew) - 7 days where family and friends visit to pay condolences.
In essence, it’s a full-blown nostalgia fest to keep your mind busy as a way to ease in into the new situation.
During that week I’ve noticed several things that made me wonder about how grief storytelling is addressed today and how it could possibly evolve with AI’s help.
The Time Tunnel Effect
The house door kept opening as if it was a “time tunnel” with people I used to know ages ago coming out of the woodwork to pay their respects.
Unlike those static AI-enhanced photo apps that magically show you how you or your friends would look like older - IRL the experience is much richer.
When you physically see a person, the dynamics is not only much more interactive but also in 3D without straining any computing power :)
True, those people all look much older now but I could share past stories and discover many blind spots that truly surprised me.
Wow! I was there and I had no idea!
Here was a remote uncle much older now, contrasting with my mental picture of him captured eons ago, sporting a pitch black bird and amazing spirit. Well, that energy was still there.
Sometimes form may change but function has much longer shelf life.
And over there is the daughter of my parents’ friends that last time I saw her was when I was 10 and our folks took us for a visit to the luna park.
I sat next to a neighbor who used to live in our building. She was quite moved when I told her I had such a crisp picture of her parents as if time stopped. How kind they were every time we bumped into each other.
We all walk around carrying “visual photo albums” in our minds with various “time stamps” frozen forever in time in various events along our journeys.
If you meet these people later in life you get to update the visual and discover a dormant perspective from another participating character - like I had the chance during that week.
What a great lesson about the importance of who is telling the story that changes the “camera focus,” detail selection and emotions!
Instagram Old Style
Another interesting aspect I’ve noticed was when my sister passed around photo albums to guests to reminisce.
We call her the “Family Archivist” because she not only had organised all albums by theme, hand-written caption and timeline, but also handed out individual photos to guests, so they can relive their old selves.
Black & white photos of my mom and dad shown during before and after their wedding.
As time went by, you start seeing cheerfully colorful documentation of their trips and family events.
Keeping up with technology, when the first VHS video cameras came out, my dad used to lament after friends asked him: “How was your vacation?”
“What are you talking about? I saw the whole trip through one eye…”
Why you ask? Simply because he was filming every moment :)
Possible Next AI Application
When I saw my dad last November, a few times I felt like he was “talking through his eyes” as if he still had access to his memory database but lost the ability to speak.
With all the recent oohs and ahhs over ChatGPT, it made me think of a possible future use case.
The same way ChatGPT is scanning the Internet until 2021 and coming up with clever answers powered with short-term memory to engage in conversation - how about if people could do a backup of their memories at an older age?
Then if there is not yet a cure to dementia or worse the person passed away, you can still engage in conversation with that person forever.
Embed this AI tech in a realistic robot shell or virtual avatar with the right facial similarity, and as AI advances, I bet this AI chatbot will eventually also achieve sentience (i.e., the capacity to experience feelings and sensations) - and you get an incredible replica of your loved one.
This way you can always share, consult or ask questions. Forever relationships.
True! It’s not the same thing. It’s creepy but wouldn’t you say much richer than a static photo album or one-way video?
To get an early glimpse into this possible application, using manual video recording of information, check out my podcast interview with Stephen Smith, Co-founder & CEO of Storyfile.
You’re absolutely right! Nothing can replace a loved one, especially a parent you knew all your life. If you’re lucky, it’s that special bond built over time by love, support and admiration.
Faiths have given us various consoling stories to keep us going about how the afterlife might look like; Heaven vs. Hell depending on your deeds IRL.
And filmed entertainment dreamed up future paradises to keep us hoping, Upload was one of my recent favourites.
Thanks for allowing me to share some of my thoughts and emotions during this charged period.
Until next time, if there one thing I took from this experience is this.
Don’t waste time on old grudges and overthinking, instead simplify, be grateful and stay meaningful in everything you do.
After all we’re all here just for the weekend ;)