The Ethics of AI in Funeral Services — Balancing Efficiency and Personalization
By: Amanda Winstead
Arranging a funeral is challenging in a variety of ways. It is difficult to juggle the practical tasks related to organizing an important event while navigating the emotions of grief. It’s certainly wise to seek out resources to help you shoulder the burden of this process.
One of the tools that may offer some practical relief at this time is artificial intelligence (AI). Continued developments in the field of natural language processing mean that AI is becoming a more accessible and agile tool for a wide range of tasks. This includes some aspects of arranging funerals. That said, it’s also important to consider whether it’s appropriate to use data-driven algorithms for a situation as deeply human as a funeral service.
We’re going to take a closer look at the ethics of involving AI in funerals.
How Can AI Be Used?
To best understand the ethics of AI’s use, it’s worth exploring how the tools are being applied.
Early examples of AI’s use are starting to emerge in the funeral industry. Chatbots trained in natural language processing can offer practical funeral planning possibilities for busy and grieving loved ones.
Primarily, you’ll find that AI is most relevant for any element of funeral arrangements that require written content. Creating effective content quickly without sacrificing quality can be a challenging prospect at the best of times. Alongside adopting well-organized planning strategies, one solution is to utilize the growing range of natural language processing platforms to produce copy, recommend service formats, and suggest memorial ideas.
Understandably, grieving families may find that these tools can lighten their load at a difficult time. AI may be able to produce an effective order of service based on data from past funeral traditions. Relatives and friends that struggle with creative writing can find assistance from AI writing tools that can produce entire readings. Even creating effective text for headstones, descriptions for death notices, and scripts for memorial videos can be produced through AI with relatively little human input.
What Are the Ethical Challenges?
You may find the prospect of AI producing content for funeral services to be something of a relief. However, as with so much of the discussion around AI at the moment, there are nuanced ethical quandaries about its use.
Some of the considerations related to funerals include:
Authenticity of Sentiments
An AI platform can produce a eulogy, memorial script, or death notice. It may even be able to include some details about the passed loved one that are accurate. However, the authenticity of the sentiments expressed could be considered questionable. The words of a computer system, even one fed by the language from years of funeral traditions, might not be seen by people as truly heartfelt. In this instance, the ethical quandary can also be whether it’s okay to allow funeral attendees to think a eulogy, for instance, is from a relative when it is entirely created by AI.
Suitability for Final Wishes
It’s not unusual for someone to include how they would like their funeral to be arranged in their last wishes. This may include details of which friends or relatives they want to create materials such as orders of service, eulogies, and memorials, among other things. It’s important, then, to consider whether it’s ethical to utilize an AI for these tasks when the deceased has expressly requested a person to provide these elements.
Efficacy During Grieving
Ethics can also be applied to how you treat yourself with integrity. In this instance, utilizing AI as a time-saving device may deprive the person writing for the funeral of the sense of catharsis that can come from the process. Your ability to express your deeply-held feelings about a passed friend or relative can be an important tool for a healthy grieving process. It might not be particularly ethical to discard this tool and prolong the pain of grief unnecessarily.
How Can You Be Ethical and Efficient?
The potential ethical issues related to AI in funeral services don’t necessarily mean you should avoid the technology entirely. After all, it’s certainly ethical to use techniques to reduce your burden at a time when you’re in pain. Nevertheless, the key is to establish methods to gain efficiency benefits while also keeping the vital human touch in appropriate areas.
Therefore, when planning a funeral, it may be best to focus your use of AI purely on administrative tasks. As these are activities that require little personalization, they may be more appropriately handled by software. This might include writing initial outreach emails to potential funeral vendors.
For more complex and personal tasks, you can also establish ways to humanize your AI-generated content. You can use the structure of an automated piece generated by AI and edit it to incorporate more natural language or add in personal anecdotes. Remove anything that doesn’t apply to your passed loved one. In essence, the AI should be a collaborator in eulogies, memorial video scripts, and obituaries rather than the sole creator.
It can also be more ethical to simply utilize AI to spark ideas at a time when you may not be feeling at your most creative. Inquire about popular funeral readings around specific themes. Ask the chatbot about elements a eulogy typically includes. This lightens the practical burden while enabling your content to be heartfelt and cathartic.
Using AI to help arrange funerals is not an inherently negative action. However, it’s how you adopt these tools that determine whether they’re ethical. Wherever possible, focus on purely administrative tasks or use the produced content as a framework upon which you apply your genuine human sentiments.
There are also likely to be more complex ethical considerations over the next few years. For instance, we may see the emergence of new AI platforms designed to produce materials based on the specific needs of families. However, loved ones will have to consider the privacy implications of feeding algorithms personal data about their deceased relatives. As with any technological tool, families will need to be well-informed and make decisions they feel are right for them, their loved ones, and their grieving process.