'I Skype dead people': Video chat with the deceased

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  • This week's 5 most fantastic innovations and ideas!
  • Company says it's 'like a Skype chat from the past'
  • Interaction may not be real, 'but the comfort may well be'
'I Skype dead people': Video chat with the deceased

Editor's note: Karyn Lu is Turner Broadcasting's manager of New Media Insights & Inspiration. Each week, she scouts out amazing innovations, cutting-edge technology and, well, just really awesome stuff. Before it goes mainstream, it's going to be one of her 5 Things From The Future!

Have you ever thought about what will happen to all the information on your Facebook page after you pass on? What about Twitter, Instagram, chat logs, e-mail and everything else about yourself -- where you were, what you did, how you felt -- that you've been posting to the social sphere for years?

What does that lingering sense of self mean, persisting in the ethereal realm of the Internet, after someone is no longer with us? And what if all that data about someone can be harnessed in some way, to essentially keep their voice alive?

I know, I got philosophical really quick. But clearly I'm not the only one who thinks about this stuff. A new startup called Eterni.me is working on exactly this: The idea of reconstructing an individual's personality and creating an artificially intelligent version of them, based on traces of their online activity.

A version that you can "chat" with.

After they're dead.

I KNOW.

According to the team behind Eterni.me, a part of the MIT Entrepreneurship Development Program, the project works by collecting "almost everything that you create during your lifetime, and processes this huge amount of information using complex Artificial Intelligence algorithms. 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."

From what I remember of "Caprica" and "Battlestar Galactica," I'm pretty sure this is exactly how the Cylon race first started, right? (In that sci-fi world at least, it doesn't turn out too well for the humans).

However, in the real world, no one wants to be forgotten. We all want to live on in the memories of our loved ones, and there is something darkly lovely about the idea of being able to hear someone's "voice" after they are gone. Even if you know it's not real, the comfort the interaction gives you may well be.

Eterni.me CEO Marius Ursache told Fast Company, "We're very aware we're not creating a digital clone or anything creepy, but an interface for accessing memories."

These days, it seems like many ideas that were once purely science fiction are now becoming reality (according to The New York Times, the Holodeck isn't even that far off). I'll leave you with this thought, from famed science fiction writer Isaac Asimov: "The core of science fiction, its essence, the concept around which it revolves, has become crucial to our salvation if we are to be saved at all."

What do you think? Is the idea of digital immortality an idea you are comfortable with?

Let us know in the comments and be sure to check out the rest of this week's amazing Things From the Future!

-- Swivel seats are just the start: How cars of the future may transform into living rooms.

-- Lick ice cream, create music.

-- Site's Instagram heat map shows who's snapping where, in real time.

-- Here's how an invisible vending machine works -- and only for couples.

 

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