Losing a loved one is a troubling time in anyone’s life. For some, the grief can be overwhelming and they might be unable to move on. Dealing with loss can lead to severe mental health issues if they cannot come to terms with their grief. However, artificial intelligence and augmented reality technology have evolved to the point where they can be used in various applications — including helping people work through grief.

Grief and Unhealthy Coping Mechanisms

Grief is the expression of sadness after the loss of a loved one. Its symptoms are psychological distress, confusion and apprehension about the future. Everyone has different ways of expressing grief, but some might be mentally unhealthy.

These unhealthy coping mechanisms can interfere with day-to-day activities and even lead to dangerous levels of depression. Signs that someone cannot cope with their grief healthily include a tendency to withdraw, refrain from social interaction and disinterest in hobbies and activities that once brought joy.

During the grieving period, those who have suffered a loss may also have to deal with the aftermath, such as plans for the deceased estate and their will. Being forced to handle — or refusing to engage with — these activities might worsen unhealthy coping, especially if the deceased did not have a plan for their estate.

How AR and AI Technology Can Help

Augmented reality is a technology with a wide variety of applications, from imposing artificial aspects onto real-world locations to fully simulating people and environments. Examples of augmented reality include everything from video games and apps to retail and deep space exploration.

While these uses seem obvious, AR and artificial intelligence can also be applied in many other sectors, such as grief counseling. A Korean documentary showed how a mother who had lost her child to disease could meet her again using augmented reality.

The mother — Jang Ji-Sun — had lost her daughter so suddenly that she could not say goodbye. Because of this, she suffered from severe depression and obsessiveness over her daughter for three years.

Jang Ji-Sun was moved to tears when she saw and interacted with the digital facsimile of her daughter. She was happy for the first time in a long while, though she could tell the simulation was only a virtual representation of her daughter.

Other companies worldwide have begun developing AR and AI technologies to keep interactive mementos of deceased loved ones. These can be anything from apps on your phone to full augmented reality experiences. Most of these tools use artificial intelligence to simulate the behaviors and thoughts of the deceased based on information users input into the program to act more lifelike.

This tool can be highly therapeutic for people like Jang Ji-Sun, whose loss was so sudden they could not spend time with their loved ones during their final moments. Interacting with a virtual representation of said loved one can give them the closure they need to move on — or at least move to a healthier way of grieving.

The Problems With Simulating the Deceased

However, others argue using virtual technology to simulate deceased persons would be unethical and can worsen unhealthy grieving habits. Instead of helping the grieved to move on, having access to fully interactable virtual simulations of the deceased might have the opposite effect.

Yet others say that while augmented reality and AI technology are highly advanced, they are still far from producing truly realistic environments and are known to be glitchy. These limitations may prevent them from fully simulating a person and ruin the immersive experience — which will directly impact the effectiveness of augmented reality therapy.

There is also the concern that these simulations will be heavily commercialized and companies offering these services might take advantage of bereaved persons. This raises another question about ethics — should tools like this be widely available? Or should they be restricted for purely therapeutic purposes under the guidance of a medical specialist?

AR Therapy Might Be the Answer

Although there are problems on the technological and ethical spectrum, there is no denying that augmented reality and AI tools will be part of the future. In the right circumstances, AR technology can be a blessing to those suffering from grief, enabling them to say their final goodbyes.

Devin Partida is Editor-in-Chief at ReHack Magazine and editorial contributor at AR Insider. See her work here and follow her @rehackmagazine.

Header image credit: Eric Ward on Unsplash 

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