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Empathy’s new tool uses AI to generate obituaries, and it’s not half bad • TechCrunch



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

Or perhaps not. Consider leaving it to AI.

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

“With the overwhelming number of tasks and emotional strain grieving families face, Finding Words allows them to worry less about the task of drafting the text for an obituary and focus more on honoring the memory and legacy of their loved one,” the company 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 least to my ears. Wouldn’t family want to be more involved in writing a remembrance of a loved one’s life? Doesn’t letting AI handle the work cheapen it somehow, or feel less thoughtful?

I asked Empathy CEO Ron Gura.

“Many people who experience the loss of a family member struggle to write personal and thoughtful tributes for their loved ones, for a variety of reasons,” he told me in an email interview. “They may be too emotionally overwhelmed to know where to start or preoccupied by the enormous volume of administrative tasks that typically follow a loss. It’s a terrible feeling to be sitting at your computer staring at a blank screen and feeling like you are letting your family and your loved one down. Any support that can guide people through this process is beneficial, and it’s essential that access to such support is democratized and made available to as many people as possible; generative AI serves as an equalizer in this regard.”

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

Feeding Finding Words data to fuel its algorithms.

The tool walks you through a questionnaire, serving prompts 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 about the ceremony venue, date and time, or special guidelines,” and pertain to different aspects of the person’s life, like whether they served in the military, what people often said about them, their proudest accomplishments and your favorite memories together.

Many of the questions don’t have to be answered, and responses can range in length from a few words to several paragraphs. Gura says that the flow was modeled on the obituary writing services commonly offered by funeral homes and professional obituary writing companies.

“With Finding Words, Empathy empowers individuals by helping them work on this process themselves — and offers the service for free,” he added. “The tool helps people understand what is typically included in an obituary, and prompts users to consider the sort of details, memories, and anecdotes that are essential in drafting a personalized obituary, ultimately crafting the details inputted into cohesive text.”

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

Generative AI, including the type of text-generating AI underpinning Finding Words, has a tendency to generate untrue or otherwise problematic text. I didn’t observe any in my testing. But in 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 based on insights from thousands of sample obituaries … Our AI model has been trained to generate a cohesive outcome that accurately reflects whatever details users input,” Gura said. “We take care to inform users that the text generated by Finding Words is fully automated and advise them to review the text thoroughly in order to verify that all information is correct.”

Empathy Finding Words

The finished AI-generated obit.

Will Finding Words make obit-writing services obsolete? I doubt it — those services tend to be more bespoke. But while I was tempted to dismiss it out of hand, I can’t say it wasn’t serviceable in my brief test. (Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, career obit writers.) With some fine-tuning, the results could be quite good, in fact — and definitely on par with some of the templates out there (and Wired’s 2016 AI-written obituary for Marvin Minsky).

Given generative AI’s plagiaristic proclivities, I am wary, though, of how Empathy is training the language algorithm that powers Finding Words. Gura didn’t disclose where the aforementioned sample obits came from, and also didn’t say whether Empathy uses any user data to fine-tune them. (I’ve sent a follow-up email to clarify.) 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 date — is no doubt under pressure from investors to monetize. I wouldn’t be surprised in the slightest to see a fee attached to Finding Words in the future, at which point the tool will warrant higher scrutiny.

“In terms of our plans for Finding Words, we are constantly collecting user feedback, reviewing every obituary generated and regularly tweaking our templates and prompts to improve the quality of our draft obituaries,” Gura said. 

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Microsoft fixes reversible screenshot vulnerability on Windows



Microsoft has pushed an update to fix a screenshot editing vulnerability in Windows 10 and 11, as spotted earlier by Bleeping Computer. The security flaw, dubbed the “aCropalypse,” could let bad actors recover the edited portions of screenshots, potentially revealing personal information that had been cropped out or concealed.

According to Microsoft, the issue (CVE-2023-28303) affects both the Snip & Sketch app on Windows 10 and the Snipping Tool on Windows 11. However, it only applies to images created in a very specific set of steps. That includes those that have been taken, saved, edited, and then saved over the original file, as well as the ones opened in the Snipping Tool, edited, and then saved to the same location. It doesn’t have any effect on the screenshots modified before saving them and also doesn’t impact screenshots that had been copied and pasted to, say, the body of an email or document.

Microsoft first learned of the issue earlier this week. That’s when Chris Blume, the chair of the working group for the PNG image format, brought it to the attention of David Buchanan and Simon Aarons — the same security researchers who discovered the aCropalypse vulnerability affecting the Google Pixel’s Markup tool. This, similarly, lets hackers reverse the changes made to screenshots, making it possible to reveal the personal information in an image that someone thought they were hiding, whether by cropping it out or scribbling over it.

You can download the latest updates for the affected apps on Windows by heading to the Microsoft Store, clicking Library, and then choosing Get updates. If you have automatic updates enabled, you should notice that the Snipping Tool should be set to version 10.2008.3001.0, while the Snip & Sketch tool will be version 11.2302.20.0. Just like the patch Google issued, Microsoft’s change won’t update the edited screenshots that had already been posted online, though, which could potentially leave thousands of screenshots on the web that bad actors can exploit.

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Microsoft reportedly orders AI chatbot rivals to stop using Bing’s search data



Microsoft doesn’t want its rivals to use Bing’s search index to power their AI chatbots, according to a report from Bloomberg. The company reportedly told two unnamed Bing-powered search engines that it will restrict them from accessing Microsoft’s search data altogether if they continue using it with their AI tools.

As noted by Bloomberg, Microsoft licenses out Bing’s search data to several search engines, including DuckDuckGo, Yahoo, and the AI search engine While DuckDuckGo, for example, uses a combination of Bing and its own web crawler to provide search results, and Neeva also pull some of their results from Bing, helping to conserve some of the time and resources that come along with crawling the entire web.

Microsoft apparently draws the line at using Bing’s search index as fodder for AI chatbots, however. Sources close to the situation tell Bloomberg that Microsoft believes using Bing’s data in this way is a violation of its contract, and that it may choose to terminate its agreements with the search engines accused of misusing this information.

“We’ve been in touch with partners who are out of compliance as we continue to consistently enforce our terms across the board,” Microsoft tells Bloomberg. “We’ll continue to work with them directly and provide any information needed to find a path forward.” It’s unclear whether Microsoft took action against any search engines, and the company didn’t immediately respond to The Verge’s request for comment.

With more companies like Google introducing their takes on OpenAI’s ChatGPT chatbot, Microsoft likely wants to make its own search data exclusive to Bing’s chatbot. The tool is already powered by OpenAI’s GPT-4, the latest and most powerful version of the company’s language model, and is capable of answering various questions, creating summaries, generating code, writing social media posts, and more.

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Just 7 days until the TC Early Stage early bird flies away



Budget-minded entrepreneurs and early-stage startup founders take heed — this is no time to procrastinate. We have only 7 days left of early-bird pricing to TechCrunch Early Stage 2023 in Boston on April 20.

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During this one-day startup bootcamp, you’ll learn about legal issues, fundraising, marketing, growth, product-market fit, pitching, recruiting and more. We’re talking more than 40 highly engaging presentations, workshops and roundtables with interactive Q&As and plenty of time for networking.

Here are just a few examples of the topics we have on tap. You’ll find plenty more listed in the event agenda.

How to Tell Your TAM: Dayna Grayson from Construct Capital invests in the rebuilding of the most foundational and broken industries of our economy. Industries such as manufacturing and logistics, among others, that formed in an analog world have been neglected by advanced technology. Dayna will talk about how, beyond the idea, founders can pitch investors on their TAM, including how they will wedge into the market and how they will eventually disrupt it.

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At TechCrunch Early Stage you’ll walk away with a deeper working understanding of topics and skills that are essential to startup success. Founders save $200 with an early-bird founder ticket — college students pay just $99!

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