Earlier this week, the most excellent Hack programme on Triple J featured an article on the posthumous use of social media and its effect on the grieving process. It’s not something I have had much experience with – of the handful of my loved ones who have died since I started using social media, only one had a Facebook account, and that was under-utilized – but as a speculative fiction author who likes to think about technological advancements, the near future, and things of generally morbid nature, the topic held great fascination for me. Coincidentally, I happened to witness this week what happens when someone dies and Facebook Goes Horribly Wrong, when the aforementioned social media site alerted the Facebookverse that it was one of my distant virtual acquaintance’s birthday. Trouble was, said acquaintance passed away some weeks ago. His timeline was filled with happy birthday wishes from a host of (presumably) even more distant acquaintances who didn’t get the memo. “Awkward” doesn’t begin to cover it.
But back to Hack. Among other things, the programme discussed such start-up companies as Eterni.me and LIVESON. Via sophisticated artificial intelligence programming that doesn’t exist yet, Eterni.me will take all of one’s social media interactions and analyze them to create a digital avatar that will continue to communicate with your loved ones on your behalf after you die. LIVESON is a similar service that will posthumously tweet for you. Their tagline is “When your heart stops beating, you’ll keep tweeting.”
So many questions, so little time…
Here’s what I’m thinking – and for a change, it has little to do with death. Writers are constantly being exhorted to spend up to half of our productive time attending to our social media profile in order to engage with our audience (or somehow magically attract an audience in the first place). Why wait until death to create an avatar? Why not get one of these puppies going and put it to work doing our online promotion for us? Surely it’s got to be cheaper than employing a publicist, and our fans need never know the difference between the real you and the virtual AI you. It’d be like David Brin’s Kil’n People or that Bruce Willis movie Surrogates, only without the somewhat creepy physical facsimiles.
I also wonder what it would be like interacting with a virtual avatar of myself. Would I like me, or would I be an insufferable bore? Perhaps, if this technology ever makes it to fruition, it should be mandatory to spend some time with your avatar before death so you can make a more informed decision on whether or not to inflict yourself on your loved ones for eternity. On the other hand, if you really dig yourself but you’re a bit on the lonely side, a ready-made digital friend who shares your hopes, dreams, interests and opinions is only a mouse click away.