In an effort to help people cope with the loss of their loved ones, a South Korean tech company is developing an app that lets them take photos and converse with digitally-rendered models of deceased friends and family.
Called “With Me”, the controversial app was developed by ELROIS, a Korean firm that specializes in creating realistic 3D avatars, and requires the featured person to sign up for an avatar while they are still alive. Currently, they have to visit a special booth where their bodies are scanned using special technology, but ELROIS hopes that smartphones will soon come with built-in 3D-scanning technology to streamline the process. The company then proceeds to create a “realistic” 3D avatar based on the scanned images, followed by reshaping and auto-rigging to make it animated.
Not only can users of the With Me app take selfies with these digital avatars of their loved ones, but thanks to artificial intelligence, they can also converse with them, or have them react to certain commands or information uploaded to the app. “When a user puts personal information in the app, the avatars remember the user from that time and recognize if there’s some changes in the of users as well,” an ELROIS spokesperson said. “For example, if there is a change in appearance or an emotional change and the avatar will mention something about it, such as ‘you look younger today, what is your secret?'”
The avatars can also track the user’s face and position and mimic their facial expression, posture or hand movements.
“It was designed for those who lost a friend or family member and are having trouble moving on,” the spokesperson told the Daily Mail. “3D photo-realistic avatar is based on the actual person and it has some interaction with the users, so we think the avatars can be the new way to overcome their wounded-heart with a good function of new technology.”
With Me was showcased at the World Mobile Congress, last week, and has sparked quite the controversy online. While the company claims that the app allows people to create memories with their loved ones even after they’ve passed away, some have argued that these are fake memories, as you’re using an AI avatar that, apart from some basic features, captures nothing of who that person used to be.
“It is not fake memories, I think, because it is 3D realistic avatars, and the actual person is in my mind,” ELROIS’ Eun Jin Lim told the BBC. “It depends on people’s opinion.”
But creating memories and interacting with the dead is just one of the ways in which the Korean company sees With Me being used. It also plans to contact various celebrities and license their image so that fans can interact with them in avatar form.
“We are working on the development for making Avatar Cloud Service in the web and mobile to upload their avatars and buy celebrities avatar, clothes and other stuff related with avatars (We call it as ‘VAW’ or ‘vivid avatar world),” an ELROIS spokesperson said. “Now it is still in the process and we have to contact with celebrities’ agent sooner to get their avatars.”
With Me relies on the same augmented reality technology used in the hit mobile game Pokemon GO. Interestingly enough, ELROIS isn’t the first company to create an augmented reality app that allows user to interact with their deceased loved ones. Last year, a Japanese tombstone company launched Spot Message, an app that lets users “catch” pre-recorded messages from the dead at their graves and other places dear to them.