How we grieve for our departed loved ones varies significantly. But now, artificial intelligence (AI) is making it possible to create ‘legacy avatars’ of loved ones who have passed away. So what exactly are grief avatars? How are they changing our understanding of death? And are they promoting healthy mourning? Let’s take a closer look.

What are grief avatars?

Grief tech avatars, sometimes known as ‘legacy avatars’ or ‘digital afterlife avatars’, are AI-powered programs or chatbots that enable us to see our dearly departed as they once were: talking, moving, smiling and laughing. The idea behind these digital afterlife avatars is that even though someone has passed away, sharing their memories and stories with those who knew them best is possible thanks to products like Deep Nostalgia by MyHeritage and HereAfter AI.

Deep Nostalgia, for instance, uses a combination of deep learning and facial recognition technology to animate photos of people. HereAfter AI, on the other hand, creates a digital avatar of the person, allowing users to ask questions and receive answers in their loved one’s voice.

Similarly, other digital legacy programs are taking things further by creating an interactive avatar from audio recordings, video footage or text conversations. MIT Media Lab’s Augmented Eternity and Amazon’s Alexa’s voice customisation, where she can read stories aloud in a departed loved one’s voice, are just two examples.

Alexa AI

Alexa AI

Alexa head scientist Rohit Prasad showcases an upcoming synthetic speech feature at re: Mars conference with a video of a child having Alexa read a story to him in the voice of his departed grandmother. The voice clone only required a minute of audio as a sample before recording the entire story.

Likewise, USA companies like Eternime and LifeNaut offer to take your digital footprint (tweets, online messages, vlogs, and photos) and, using clever AI algorithms, create a virtual, interactive digital twin. Furthermore, friends, family and relatives will be able to visit your digital twin for support and advice long after you’re dead.

“This digital twin will learn from you, grow with you, help you and, eventually, live on after you die.”

Digital twin

Avatar categories

Researchers Maggie Savin-Baden and David Burden categorise this emerging digital immortalisation technology into three categories:

  • Memory creators

    The construct of digital memories and artefacts before and after a person’s death. Examples include virtual venerations, digital commemoration, digital memorisation and durable biographies, which the person in question does not usually create.

  • Avatar creators

    Software that enables individuals to create avatars that can converse with others and act on their behalf. That said, these digital avatars cannot continue to learn or influence the outside world and are unlikely to be mistaken for their human template.

  • Persona creators

    Services that create a virtual avatar do so with digital immortality in mind. These avatars remain after death and continue to learn. Over time, AI can alter the avatar’s responses and adjust responses to suit post-death contexts. Hence, these avatars could be mistaken for the living or a departed loved one communicating for a digital afterlife.

Worldwide, AI is changing how we mourn our departed loved ones.

How are grief avatars changing our understanding of death?

Historically, grieving is a process of working through emotion, with the eventual goal being to live without the deceased and find a new normal. Those mourning the death typically talk about their departed loved one, revisit fond memories, retell favourite stories, view photographs and hold sentimental objects. In many cultures, this is often the time when grandchildren learn about their parents’ parents. Altogether the grieving process constructs an enduring story that places the departed loved one within the lives of the living. Now, grief avatars keep our loved ones ‘alive’ for eternity with an engaging appeal. As a result, digital immortality appears to be changing our understanding of grief and the afterlife.

Moreso, this ability to live on forever has the potential to challenge religious landscapes and raise ethical questions about the ‘digital afterlife’ and managing avatar legacies.  Furthermore, are the effects on our emotions likely healing and troublesome?

Research in this area is still young, but early reports suggest that access to a digital avatar of a departed loved one allows a tangible ‘healthy’ connection.  For some mourners, accessing their departed loved one’s avatar is a way to continue conversations and share stories.

While many psychologists say creating an avatar of a departed loved one can be therapeutic, it might lead others to stay in the virtual world of their departed loved one.

Are avatars promoting healthy grief?

For many, grief avatars may offer an alternative way to cope with grief. Similarly, talking to an AI-powered avatar may be helpful during the grieving process for others. Professional clinical psychologist Albert Rizzo, director of Medical Virtual Reality at the Institute for Creative Technologies at the University of Southern California’s Keck School of Medicine, asks whether avatars will give those grieving solace or, instead, create a digital afterlife addiction.

While it’s early days, it’s important to remember that the grief avatars should not replace traditional grieving. And for those struggling with grief, it is essential to seek professional support.


Grief avatars provide the bereaved with an innovative way to memorialise their departed loved ones. By delivering personalised responses based on uploaded information, these digital afterlife avatars allow us to keep our departed loved ones alive and connected to our lives. And as this trend continues to gain popularity, grief avatars may soon become commonplace in how we think about death and mourning—reshaping how we memorialise our dead for generations to come.


Looking for books to show someone your support during a difficult time?

Our Sympathy Gift Series books are the perfect way to help someone cope with grief and loss. Each book is filled with uplifting photographs and inspiring quotes, giving your loved one the strength they need to get through this difficult time.

With our heartfelt messages, you can provide them with the comfort they need to carry on.

Front cover of Healing From Grief by Denise Gibb

Healing From Grief

Front cover of the book Last Woof by Denise Gibb

Last Woof

Front cover of the book Last Purr by Denise Gibb

Last Purr

Front cover of the book Goodbye Grandma by Denise Gibb

Goodbye Grandma

Front cover of the book Goodbye Grandpa by Denise Gibb

Goodbye Grandpa

Select your currency
    Your Cart
    Your cart is emptyReturn to Shop