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Grief Bots Development Ethical Dilemma (Technology Case Study)

Grief Bots Development Ethical Dilemma (Technology Case Study)

The development of grief bots is ethical in every way. Although death is a natural part of life, it does not need to bring unending grief. In the same way that a person goes for grief counseling and also keeps memorabilia in honor of the deceased, grief bots are similar. A grief bot is similar to memorabilia and grief therapy combined.

Utilitarianism is the morality theory that advocates for actions that foster pleasure and happiness and is against any actions that bring harm or unhappiness. That said, grief bots will bring happiness to the deceased’s loved one. Deontological ethics is concerned with what people do, not the consequences of their actions. Deontology focuses on doing the right thing because it is the right thing to do and avoiding wrong things because they are wrong. The purpose of the grief bots is to ease the grief of the loved one of the deceased, and that cannot be a wrong thing to do. Virtue ethics emphasizes the character of an individual as the key foundation of ethical thinking as opposed to the rules of the actions (deontology) or the consequences (consequalism). Thus, if a person’s virtue agrees with acquiring a grief bot, then there is no harm in doing so.

A grief bot is different from a virtual duet because the latter cannot communicate with the grieving person, while the grief bot is fed with data that allows communication with the loved one who is left behind (Grandinetti et al., 2020). A grief bot is physical; the person can touch it and have a conversation, but the virtual duet is more of a hologram.

Consent should not be required, but it can be sought by the loved one of the deceased. A person can willingly point out that they would want to be memorialized, and if they do not want this, they can also express their wishes. A grief bot is in itself an indication that the deceased and the loved one shared a very close bond, and that the two enjoyed each other’s company and were together often. Therefore, even without consent, the loved one would still get a grief bot, and it would not violate the deceased rights.


Grandinetti, J., DeAtley, T., & Bruinsma, J. (2020). The dead speak: Big data and digitally mediated death. AoIR Selected Papers of Internet Research.


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Grief Bots Development Ethical Dilemma (Technology Case Study)

AI, Death and Mourning, by Irina Raicu

As technology impacts most aspects of our lives, it also affects the way we respond to death, and mourn. Not too many years ago, for example people grieving after a death didn’t have to worry about memorializing loved ones’ social media accounts (Links to an external site.), about including “digital assets” in a will (Links to an external site.), about being painfully reminded of their loss (Links to an external site.) by a company’s well-intended but ill-considered “engagement” efforts, or about potentially losing treasure troves of memories if a photo hosting platform shut down (Links to an external site.).

Grief Bots Development Ethical Dilemma (Technology Case Study)

Grief Bots Development Ethical Dilemma (Technology Case Study)

The sadness is as old as the world, but people, through technology, respond to it in new ways. One such recent development is the creation of “griefbots.” An article titled “The Griefbot that Could Change How We Mourn” (Links to an external site.) details in particular the work of a data scientist, Muhammad Ahmad, who hopes that artificial intelligence will “eventually allow us to craft the data left behind by an individual into convincing text-based simulations of that person. “ Such simulations would “respond when prompted, imitating the deceased’s cadence, tone, and idiosyncrasies.”

Ahmad has been working on his own “griefbot.” The project was a response to a personal loss—the death of his father. It is an effort to reclaim (or continue) interactivity with someone who has died. Beyond the interaction with those who knew the deceased, however, Ahmad also envisions a kind of interactivity that would span generations:

When his father died four years ago, Ahmad lamented the fact that any future children he would have would never be able to bond with their grandfather. He drew on his previous research (Links to an external site.), … and spent the last few years collecting data his father had left behind, such as audio or video recordings, text messages, and transcripts of letters. This information has allowed him to create a messenger program that (he claims) can imitate his father. …

Ahmad now has a 2-year-old daughter, and as he continues to evolve his simulation (he’s currently exploring how to enable it to respond to images and adapt to new contexts), he hopes that one day she’ll form the semblance of a connection with her grandfather.


  • Is the development of “grief bots” ethical? How might this action be perceived through the ethical frameworks of utilitarianism, deontology/rights, and virtue?
  • In 1991, in what was dubbed a “virtual duet,” (Links to an external site.) singer Natalie Cole “’resurrected’ her late father [Nat King Cole] to create a new version of his signature song ‘Unforgettable’ featuring them both”; are griefbots different from “virtual duets”? If so, in what way(s)?
  • Should consent be required from the people who might be memorialized in this way?

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