Death 2.0: Crowdsourcing the rest of your (after)lifeSeptember 22nd, 2011 by Tommaso De Benetti
Years before Twitter and Farmville took over our lives, philosophers were worried that computers were changing the nature of human existence. (Yes, I watched The Matrix again on the weekend.) With the rise of social media, this idea has now gone a step further: can computers change what it means to be dead?
A few weeks ago, while watching TED videos to escape the scorching Italian sun (it’s a tough life, I know), I came across this off-beat and slightly creepy talk by Adam Ostrow, Mashable’s Editor in Chief.
Adam’s subject was our online (im)mortality. These days people are constantly uploading stuff: social networking profiles, tweets and even humble blogs. Long-term, this means we’re all creating virtual “life-journals” that will, eventually, outlive us. Unable to ignore this disturbing thought, Adam began to explore the weird and wonderful world of post-mortem posting.
Things to do in cyberspace when you’re dead
One of Adam’s first discoveries was if i die, with the site slogan: write it down, just in case. Basically, it’s an app which lets you compose your own final Facebook status. You give this “ultimate update” to three trusted (non-drinking) friends who post it after you’ve finally gone to the big app store in the sky.
For people who want more order in their afterlives there’s 1000memories, a free site that creates “an online shareable space” where people can publish and discuss photos of departed loved-ones. Or, for military enthusiasts there’s Fold3, which memorializes the lives of soldiers. It’s slogan: Their Lives, Our History (inexplicably Fold3 rejected TechCrunch’s way cooler tagline: a place for dead people).
Ways to tweet forever
Following the “virtual afterlife” meme to its logical conclusion, Adam Ostrow ends his talk by discussing the possibility of converting a person’s entire “online archive” into a kind of immortal social media avatar. This “entity” could continue updating for you even after your physical death. It’s a bizarre but compelling concept and, technologically speaking, could soon be possible. Recently, there have been endless projects combining human and artificial intelligence – could the same thing work here? Imagine the crowd checking machine-produced “beyond the grave” posts to make sure they sound human enough.
Meanwhile, over at MIT, scientists are now designing robots capable of displaying human emotions. How long before we can make them look, walk and talk like our loved ones? I’m personally torn over this idea. On the one hand I could have my own personal Louis C.K-bot doing hilarious routines while washing the dishes. On the other hand, the whole area is so ethically problematic it makes gay marriage in the Vatican look non-controversial. What if someone makes an army of hate-spreading virtual fascists? Or a modern day Romeo becomes obsessed with a simulacra of his dead girlfriend?
Should we go down this route at all? Sci-Fi writers from Isaac Asimov to William Gibson have all struggled with the same question. It’s terrible, freaky and fascinating: exactly the kind of idea that refuses to die. Thoughts anyone? (Remember to think your comments through first: they may just outlive you).