Home Artificial Intelligence Empathy’s recent tool uses AI to generate obituaries, and it’s not half bad

Empathy’s recent tool uses AI to generate obituaries, and it’s not half bad

Empathy’s recent tool uses AI to generate obituaries, and it’s not half bad

Writing an obituary isn’t a simple task. That’s an understatement — it’s incredibly painful, often expensive too. But someone has to do it.

Or perhaps not. Consider leaving it to AI.

That’s the pitch Empathy, a platform that gives support for families who’ve recently suffered a loss, is making with the launch of its recent tool that uses AI to create obituary drafts. Called Finding Words, the tool generates obits from basic info provided by members of the family.

“With the overwhelming variety of tasks and emotional strain grieving families face, Finding Words allows them to fret less concerning the task of drafting the text for an obituary and focus more on honoring the memory and legacy of their loved one,” the corporate wrote me in a pitch email.

But not everyone would agree. Offloading the work of writing an obituary to AI doesn’t sound particularly sensitive, at the least to my ears. Wouldn’t family need to be more involved in writing a remembrance of a loved one’s life? Doesn’t letting AI handle the work cheapen it by some means, or feel less thoughtful?

I asked Empathy CEO Ron Gura.

“Many individuals who experience the lack of a member of the family struggle to put in writing personal and thoughtful tributes for his or her family members, for quite a lot of reasons,” he told me in an email interview. “They could be too emotionally overwhelmed to know where to start out or preoccupied by the big volume of administrative tasks that typically follow a loss. It’s a terrible feeling to be sitting at your computer gazing a blank screen and feeling like you might be letting your loved ones and the one you love down. Any support that may guide people through this process is helpful, and it’s essential that access to such support is democratized and made available to as many individuals as possible; generative AI serves as an equalizer on this regard.”

Those are fair points. So — within the interest of giving Finding Words a shot — I plugged in some dummy info and had the tool write an obit for me. (Reason for death: Grease fire. Plausible enough in Latest York City, I believed.)

Feeding Finding Words data to fuel its algorithms. Image Credits: Empathy

The tool walks you thru a questionnaire, serving prompts just like the deceased’s name, date of birth, date of death, location of death and last city of residence. Some questions are more specific, like “Share any relevant details concerning the ceremony venue, date and time, or special guidelines,” and pertain to different elements of the person’s life, like whether or not they served within the military, what people often said about them, their proudest accomplishments and your favorite memories together.

Lots of the questions don’t need to be answered, and responses can range in length from a couple of words to several paragraphs. Gura says that the flow was modeled on the obituary writing services commonly offered by funeral homes and skilled obituary writing firms.

“With Finding Words, Empathy empowers individuals by helping them work on this process themselves — and offers the service without spending a dime,” he added. “The tool helps people understand what is often included in an obituary, and prompts users to think about the kind of details, memories, and anecdotes which might be essential in drafting a personalised obituary, ultimately crafting the main points inputted into cohesive text.”

Finding Words’ obits won’t win awards, but they were higher than I expected, frankly (actually in comparison with ChatGPT’s attempts). While I kept answers to the prompts relatively nonspecific in my test, the AI managed to craft them into something coherent — if a bit formulaic. (To be fair, most obits formulaic — to the purpose that a cursory Google search yields dozens of templates.) If I hadn’t been told, I doubt I’d suspect AI had a hand within the writing process.

Generative AI, including the variety of text-generating AI underpinning Finding Words, has a bent to generate unfaithful or otherwise problematic text. I didn’t observe any in my testing. But within the interest of thoroughness, I asked Gura what preventative steps Empathy took, if any.

“Finding Words is powered by an AI algorithm trained and refined by Empathy’s team of developers, writers and grief professionals and is predicated on insights from 1000’s of sample obituaries … Our AI model has been trained to generate a cohesive consequence that accurately reflects whatever details users input,” Gura said. “We take care to tell users that the text generated by Finding Words is fully automated and advise them to review the text thoroughly in an effort to confirm that every one information is correct.”

Empathy Finding Words

The finished AI-generated obit. Image Credits: Empathy

Will Finding Words make obit-writing services obsolete? I doubt it — those services are likely to be more bespoke. But while I used to be tempted to dismiss it out of hand, I can’t say it wasn’t serviceable in my transient test. (Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, profession obit writers.) With some fine-tuning, the outcomes could possibly be quite good, in truth — and definitely on par with a few of the templates on the market (and Wired’s 2016 AI-written obituary for Marvin Minsky).

Given generative AI’s plagiaristic proclivities, I’m wary, though, of how Empathy is training the language algorithm that powers Finding Words. Gura didn’t disclose where the aforementioned sample obits got here from, and likewise didn’t say whether Empathy uses any user data to fine-tune them. (I’ve asked him to make clear.) In any case, whether or not the creators of the training data are being fairly compensated (and properly informed), Empathy — which is venture-backed, with $43 million raised to this point — is little doubt under pressure from investors to monetize. I wouldn’t be surprised within the slightest to see a fee attached to Finding Words in the longer term, at which point the tool will warrant higher scrutiny.

“We trained the algorithms through the use of a whole lot of obituaries previously written by our team of skilled writers. Based on the obituaries our team had manually written, we built up an understanding of the relevant questions commonly used when drafting an obituary and used these prompts to develop the custom model for writing first drafts,” Gura said in a follow-up email. “We don’t plan to make use of data from Finding Words to validate and train our algorithm. Nevertheless, we’ll use general feedback from users to iterate on the product and offering as a complete, expanding it to encompass and support more scenarios and situations.”


  1. Your article made me suddenly realize that I am writing a thesis on gate.io. After reading your article, I have a different way of thinking, thank you. However, I still have some doubts, can you help me? Thanks.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here