Wednesday, February 12, 2014

New service lets you Skype with the deceased.

There’s a new service launching from a group at MIT’s Entrepreneurship Development Program. A group of students will be offering eternal video chat via the virtual world. The service, called, has designed a way to digitally reconstruct a person’s personality after they die so that our dearly departed loved ones will be able to “communicate” from beyond the grave.

Collect your data now & share when you’re dead.

Before they depart this world, users must provide the service with access to all their online activities like chat logs, social-network accounts, photos and emails. Collected information is then used to compose a digital portrait and avatar that’s capable of communicating with friends and loved one’s after a person dies.

“ collects almost everything that you create during your lifetime, and processes this huge amount of information using complex Artificial Intelligence algorithms,” state the founders. “Then it generates a virtual YOU, an avatar that emulates your personality and can interact with, and offer information and advice to, your family and friends after you pass away. It’s like a Skype chat from the past.”

A thought-provoking concept, though details of how it actually happens are not available yet. Interested people can email the website to receive updates about the service, which is expected to launch soon. According to the creators, the site has attracted a lot of positive feedback and attention. Since going live, the site received 36,000 page views and 1,300 email registrations in less than 24 hours.

Who owns your data and what can they do with it?

Whether a service like this could ever overcome the strange factor remains to be seen. What do think? Would you be interested in interacting with virtual versions of your friends and family after they pass? Are you comfortable creating your own avatar to give wise advice from the great beyond?

In these times when major retailers are being hacked, are you okay with a tech startup having all your personal and confidential information –before you die? And what happens if they go out of business? Who owns your personal data and avatar?

“Everybody we talk to says yes, this technology is going to happen at some point,” said Marius Ursache, the startup’s chief executive. “It’s just a question of when.”

Skyping with the dead?

Skyping is for the living, at least for now. But speaking with the dead is not what this concept is all about. It’s about connecting with the past. It’s about interacting with the great beyond. It’s about asking your deceased relatives for advice.

“It sounds like you’re talking with the dead,” Nicolas Lee, product development director, told me. “But you’re really not.”

Instead you’re taking the vast amounts of information people generate throughout their life, and allowing others to make logic out of it. Today, the deceased often leave journals and diaries, private personal narratives that provide a glimpse into their past. In the near future, we can leave a live legacy –a digital presence that Skypes!

Your digital life lives on forever.

But, don’t we generate too much information? There’s unfiltered chat, email, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Pinterest archives. It’s almost too much to make sense of. Introducing a digitized avatar to help bridge that divide, or so they claim.

The team insists that the elements are more or less in place: The email logs, location data, and algorithms already exist, as do the necessary tools to synthesize them.

Ursache and Lee are also excited about the team that has come together around the idea.
“The craziest ideas get the craziest people, which is a lot of fun,” said Ursache.

We’ll see how crazy people think this concept is, once they see it live.

As for me, I’ll Skype with the living and leave the dead to rest in peace.

Nancy Burban 2014

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