AI

Empathy, Ethics and Innovation: AI and Bereavement Services

What place does AI have within bereavement services and the funeral industry, what are the benefits and how can we avoid the potential pitfalls?

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| Read time: 5 mins

As Jurassic Park’s Dr. Ian Malcolm, as played by Jeff Goldblum, supposed, "Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn't stop to think if they should."

The AI genie is well and truly out of the bottle and is already beginning to transform almost every industry imaginable - from healthcare and education, to security, finance and beyond.

In simple terms, AI is, “the simulation of human intelligence processed by machines.” [1], in effect, “a machine’s ability to simulate some of the cognitive functions we usually associate with human minds.” [2], as well as all of the tech that enables that to happen.

Businesses are exploring and tapping into the myriad of opportunities presented by innovations in generative AI in particular - the techniques powered by ‘deep-learning models’ that can generate content based on the data they’re trained on [3] - and of which Open AI’s chatbot du jour, ChatGPT is a prime example.

AI, of course, is already embedded in our daily experience - it may not be a surprise to learn, for example, that AI is used extensively by google across it’s range of products and services; using our interactions with its search engine, such as what we look for, to develop and improve the machine learning technologies that power them. [4]

 

All of which poses the question - is it a good thing?

 

For its many benefits - to the world of medicine, for example, in its potential for improving disease diagnosis, treatment selection or lab testing [5], there also comes pause for thought with regards to issues of bias, ethics, privacy, security, or even job displacement [6].

With all of that in mind, what place does AI have within the deathcare and funeral industry, what are the benefits it offers to deathcare providers, and how can we avoid the potential pitfalls?

 

Maintaining the human touch

 

At first reading, concepts such as ‘machine learning’, ‘cognitive computing’, or ‘data mining’ may seem wholly incompatible with an industry that places such importance on empathy.

But, as recognised by Ring Ring Marketing’s Welton Hong, these tools aren’t replacing human interaction, they’re enhancing them. [7]

Which is a very important distinction to make.

 

Ethics

 

New and evolving technologies are inherently tied to the human experience, and as such, where we are to embrace that change, it’s important that we do so responsibly.

Putting aside the for and againsts of an AI singularity (some believing it will eventually open vast insights into physics, biology and the cosmos, [8] while others, something more akin to the beginning of The Terminator), there are a number of considerations in the here and now that it would be reasonable to acknowledge.

For example, AI uses large amounts of data when learning, making decisions and generating outputs - and it’s here where issues relating to how data is used and the security of that data come to the fore.

There are clearly important considerations around privacy and confidentiality, which also relate in a practical way to issues of consent and authenticity; for example when creating digital memorials or representations of loved ones; and another potential issue, as one commentator points out, [9] of blurring the line between reality and a simulation when attempting to replicate a person.

We may, in broader terms, also point to ethical considerations relating to biases, accountability and transparency, which undoubtedly will continue to be part of the discourse relating to AI, but when approached responsibly, need not undermine the many advantages and benefits it can provide.

And which is why that many businesses, such as PlotBox have adopted self-governing AI policies that hold them accountable to standards around the ethical, secure and responsible use of AI across their products and services.

 

As PlotBox CEO Sean McAllister says,

 

“We are deeply committed to the responsible use of AI technology. Our approach ensures that AI enhances our services while respecting the sensitivity required in the deathcare industry. 

We use AI in many facets of the business, for use in internal productivity gains, and continually seek out the most cutting edge solutions to ultimately serve our customers better. The PlotBox platform has adopted and embedded many AI capabilities with a strong road map to further improve the solution as a whole.

We see AI transforming deathcare management by introducing greater efficiency and offering new ways to support families during their times of need, ultimately making the entire experience smoother and more respectful for everyone involved.”

 

Advantages of AI

 

Now that we’ve given due consideration to the inherent nature of AI, what are some of the benefits it can provide for cemeteries, crematoria and funeral homes?

Forbes identifies 9 key benefits of AI for businesses in 2024 [10]. These include:

The reduction of human error - helping to save both time and resources;

the automation of repetitive tasks and resources such as data collection or entry;

the smooth handling of big data - helping faster decision-making;

chatbots and digital assistants - supporting basic customer service needs;

performing risky tasks efficiently;

medical applications - such as predicting health risks;

improving workflows and processes - increasing efficiencies and productivity;

and full time availability - meaning it is a resource that can be accessed at any time needed.

 

What does this mean for deathcare?

 

According to a report by Gitnux, AI is set to revolutionise deathcare by, “improving operational efficiency, personalising services and enhancing the overall customer experience, with applications of AI set to increase by 12% each year over the next seven years.” [11]

This same report suggests that AI can potentially save 20% on operations costs, while an analysis by Global Market insights suggests that it can potentially funeral planning time by up to 30%, while a UC San Diego posits that AI can reduce human errors by 37%.

Moreover, in a survey conducted by the National Funeral Directors Association, nearly 55.3% of funeral professionals showed interest in adopting AI technology in their operations.

 

Practical applications of AI in deathcare

 

So far, so theoretical - so how can we apply this to day to day operations in cemeteries, crematoria and funeral homes? Here are just a few of the many examples:

 

The automation of routine administrative tasks, such as the processing paperwork is a clear winner in terms of giving time back to staff to focus on the compassionate care of families; 

 

AI’s ability to easily process large sets of data allows deathcare providers to analyze consumer trends and behaviours, and in becoming more ‘data-driven’ adapt strategies to meet evolving customer needs, habits and preferences;  

 

Chatbots integrated into websites or apps can enhance customer service by providing in-the-moment information on services or packages;

 

Natural language Processing (NLP) - which combines computational linguistics with learning models to understand, recognise and generate text [12], can analyse and extract textual data, reducing time spent on manual data entry, and in terms of genealogy, is able to analyse historical records for information that can uncover hidden histories;

 

Inventory intelligence tools used within PlotBox, for example, that harness AI technologies including smart data verification and audit reports, help to analyse the data you have in a way that helps to identify risk and errors, while potentially uncovering hidden inventory.

 

In terms of sales and marketing, AI provides opportunities in terms of lead generation by optimising your CRM’s capabilities - helping to identify and qualify leads, then providing insights to provide them with the right information at the right time;

 

There are also many ways in which AI can aid in memorialisation, such as in the creation of interactive, virtual experiences and platforms; while another useful way is in helping families to create obituaries for loved ones.

 

Manually writing obituaries can be both time-consuming and emotionally challenging for families during a difficult time. Solutions such as the PlotBox AI Obituary Assistant enable the generation of personalised obituaries based on prompts about the loved one, which can then be refined to create a powerful, personalised and meaningful tribute. This not only enhances customer care by relieving some of that emotional burden, but saves time for both the family and the deathcare provider to spend on practical arrangements.

 

Balancing empathy with innovation

 

AI is here to stay, and while it isn’t necessarily a magic bullet that will run your operation for you, or solve every problem, there is an important place for it within deathcare - in giving time back to focus on what matters most.

According to hubspot in their state of ai report, 95% of professionals using AI say that it helps them to spend less time on manual tasks, and more time on the most important parts of their role (88%).[13]

 

What does that time back look like for you?

 

For many, it will provide the opportunity to do some things better, to do things they haven’t done before, or to enhance the things they’re already doing.

It’s important to remember that AI in and of itself remains without emotion; so while it excels at automating tasks, processing data, creating content, making quick decisions and providing diagnoses, we as humans bring the creativity, empathy, and nuanced understanding to allow to bring together the best of both in providing a compassionate service to families. 

So while Jurassic Park’s Dr. Ian Malcolm may have a point relating to rampaging dinosaurs, perhaps for now, we can remain positive about what AI can do for us.

 

Refs.

[1] https://www.techtarget.com/searchenterpriseai/definition/AI-Artificial-Intelligence

[2] https://www.mckinsey.com/featured-insights/mckinsey-explainers/what-is-ai

[3] https://research.ibm.com/blog/what-is-generative-AI

[4] https://support.google.com/websearch/answer/13954172?hl=en#zippy=%2Chow-data-helps-google-develop-generative-ai-in-search

[5] https://bmcmededuc.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12909-023-04698-z

[6] https://www.simplilearn.com/advantages-and-disadvantages-of-artificial-intelligence-article#:~:text=The%20benefits%20of%20AI%20include,the%20advancement%20of%20autonomous%20vehicles.

[7] Artificial Intelligence, is it the Key to Staying Relevant? W. Hong, Memento Mori Mar/Apr 24

[8} https://emeritus.org/in/learn/what-is-ai-singularity/

[9] https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/ais-impact-funeral-profession-balancing-promise-peril-dna-memorial/

[10] https://www.forbes.com/advisor/in/business/software/advantages-of-ai/

[11] https://gitnux.org/ai-in-the-death-care-industry/#:~:text=Foreign%20object%20identification%20by%20AI,issuance%20and%20corrections%20by%2040%25.

[12] https://www.ibm.com/topics/natural-language-processing

[13] https://blog.hubspot.com/marketing/state-of-ai-report


 

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