Eternal You: an unnerving investigation into the AI afterlife

Filmmakers Hans Block and Moritz Riesewieck explore the corporate exploitation of AI ‘Deadbots’ that allow the bereaved to have simulated conversations with lost loved ones.

Eternal You (2024)

We have entered a new world of ‘Deadbots’, in which AI allows the living to speak to the dead, an uncanny tech response to the near-universal impulse to communicate with those we have lost. In their new film, documentary makers Hans Block and Moritz Riesewieck present us with a dilemma: now that AI can achieve a simulated conversation with your dead loved one, would you take up the offer? 

Back in 2021, Laurie Anderson discussed her AI-mediated conversations with her late husband Lou Reed, which she persists with to this day, even though much of the chatbot’s output is nonsense – “monkeys with typewriters”. The GenAI products described in this documentary, however, are astonishingly convincing. 

We meet a user of the Project December chatbot, Joshua, who tragically lost his fiancée. Another interviewee, Christi, uses it to keep alive her relationship with her dead first love. The film travels across the tech-advantaged world: in South Korea, Jang Ji-sung puts on VR goggles and meets her dead daughter. It’s heart-rending to see her reach out to the delightful avatar in front of her, failing to touch and hug.

But what about the well-known problem of AI ‘hallucinations’? Chatbots always want to give you an answer – are so eager to please that they will make things up. Often this is fine, but when the devoutly Christian Christi types a question asking her deceased friend his whereabouts, he shocks her with his reply: “I am in hell.” Bizarrely she sticks with the AI. It is a turning point in the structure of the film, which then allows the tech designers enough rope to hang themselves. Jason Rohrer, founder of Project December, says that “the AI essentially has a mind of its own,” and claims there are “conscious entities lurking in there”. When we meet Korean TV producer Kim Jong-woo, editing Jang Ji-sung’s tearful experience into a tacky reality show, we know that an unholy alliance of tech and entertainment has been unleashed.

Block and Riesewieck previously brought us The Cleaners (2018), a documentary about the anonymous individuals subcontracted to filter the most shocking videos on the internet and decide what’s good for us. That film took a highly critical view of the workings of social media; with Eternal You the filmmakers develop a similarly committed argument about the excesses of GenAI. The film could give more weight to those who deem AI tools a hindrance to coping with bereavement, but it’s an elegantly paced and sensitive exposé of a cynical attempt to build yet another income stream for Big Tech. 

 ► Eternal You is in UK cinemas from 28 June.