Zombie Social Media: Interact With Loved Ones After They Die
“Simply become immortal.”
That’s the tagline behind a new website that will one day allow users to interact with deceased family members or friends by using complex algorithms and Artificial Intelligence technology that creates conversations and revives online photo albums and life events.
Created by entrepreneurs taking part in a week-long seminar at the Martin Trust Center for MIT Entrepreneurship, Eterni.me promises users that their service will help retain a person’s legacy—in a digital setting—long after they’re buried.
The grim-sounding idea, which right now is nothing more than a concept with a landing page and some preliminary coding, is described as “a Skype chat from the past” to connect family members to the dead through a “virtual you,” as if they were talking to an actual person online.
“The first step is we are trying to preserve the data that you share online, and trying to make sense of it, so that you can interact with people through an interface,” said Marius Ursache, the company’s CEO. “I know it sounds creepy, because a lot of people have told us that, but if you think of it as having a human interface based on natural language using your legacy, it makes more sense.”
To opt into the service, users would start compiling and feeding information to Eterni.me while they’re still alive, shoveling out Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and even Google glass posts and photos. The company would rely on encrypted codes to avoid any security breaches when storing the data, and continue to collect it until that person passed away. Ursache said the company would then manipulate and translate that information so people that wanted to talk with the departed, or remember specific events they had with them, could chat in a “neutral language” that relies on AI technology like the iPhone’s Siri, except better.
Right now, most conversations with AI bots are fairly limited, and this will evolve to make them more advanced. To describe it, Ursache said to imagine the conversations Joaquin Phoenix has with his operating system in the new movie Her.
“It’s not that far away,” he said.
The motivation behind Eterni.me was based on the idea that people “have a lot of memories, and do a lot of stuff,” and once someone dies, only friends and family remember it. “And then it’s totally gone and forgotten,” said Ursache. “Some people have a bigger ego and want to be remembered, and in the future there will be a lot more technology to remember things and understand them. Each of us wants to leave something behind for their great grand children so they can see some things in our lives that happened. It’s going to be clear that it’s not your grandfather at the other end of the line. That would be creepy.”
Ursache envisions the company charging people a monthly fee to build their profile, but hasn’t figured out who would take over the costs once a person died. “We don’t know who would take over charges once someone passes away. At the current stage it’s too early to discuss about this, because it’s still in a very primitive version,” he said.
Ursache is one of eight cofounding engineers, designers, and business professionals— all part of the MIT Entrepreneurship Development Program—that created the concept in just four days.
While it sounds like something from a paranormal movie (people have said as much in chats on Reddit and hacker news websites), the company remains unfazed. “We have seen a lot of hate comments, but that’s fine because it means people care about this topic. In the future people will be able to preserve the information they have created in their lives. I know it’s creepy for some people, but it’s going to happen anyways,” said Ursache. “The question is when and how.”
Ursache wants to be on the forefront of that technology when does begin to become more commonplace.
He also said there has been as much positive feedback as there is negative. In the 24 hours since Boston.com tech writer Michael Morisy first reported on the site, more than 1,000 people have signed up to receive more information about Eterni.me once it goes live. “A lot of people have already signed up. People have expressed interest in it. No one took his wallet out yet. But we have been up less than 24-hours and we already have like 1,500 people that have signed up to get notifications,” Ursache said.
The team of creators will pitch their idea for Eterni.me to VCs and investors on Friday, January 31, at MIT. Judging by the vested interest since they launched the skeleton website, Ursache thinks people will be eager to invest. “Some of the things are put out and we received really good feedback. It was just an exercise in something that’s viable, and we are looking at how we can move it forward,” he said.
He said once they do, they will select from a pool of people that signed up for the initial alerts, and possibly include them in the first round of testing.