Technology and Death…or Not

One of my works in progress deals with how we let go, or not, of loved ones who have died. Thanks to medical technology we sometimes have to grapple with the question of if our loved one is truly dead and questions about when death actually occurs are raised. Consumer technology has made it possible to let our digital life continue after our physical bodies are dead in the form of a continued Facebook page or LinkedIn account. It is the inherent nature of technology to continually evolve and this arena is no exception.

There is a service called LIVESON that uses Artificial Intelligence to learn about your likes, tastes, and writing style by monitoring your twitter feed. After you die LIVESON will continue to tweet for you based on what it has learned. Their tagline is “When your heart stops beating, you’ll keep tweeting”.  Ultimately, a person you have designated as executor of your LIVESON will has the power to determine if the feed stays “live”.

Perhaps you have heard or even participate in Lifelogging. For those haven’t; it’s the act of recording and archiving all the information of your life:  texts, video, audio, media access, emails, blog posts and comments, as well as physical activity, health statics, etc. The data is logged and archived. Wearable computers have made Lifelogging fairly easy and cheap. Just a couple of days ago at the CES in Las Vegas Sony announced Lifelogging software that interfaces with a Smartphone and a wearable item that tracks activity. It logs everything from what photos you took with your phone to how many hours you slept. The wearable hardware features a “life bookmark” button to highlight a point on your timeline as it happens.

Gordon Bell, an award winning engineer and pioneering Lifelogger, has told New Scientist magazine that he created a program for the AI software firm Cognea. His software allows a chatbot to mine lifelogs to answer questions in the same manner the log owner would. After a person dies their lifelog and chatbot, or avatar, or CGI representation  could live on continuing the lifelog timeline.

Albert Hubo  Photo by David Hanson Dayofid at en.wikipedia

Albert Hubo
Photo by David Hanson Dayofid at en.wikipedia

 

For some people these measures could bring comfort in the face of a loss. Others may find it macabre or unsettling. Spiritual and ethical issues could make it desirable or repulsive depending on the viewpoint. In Victorian times, when the technology of photography was evolving, it was common to take post-mortem photos of loved ones. Perhaps, this is a strange step we take to  integrate technology into our lives, making it a part of death.

It was common in the Victorian era to photograph the dead as a keepsake. The girl standing is deceased, she is propped up with a stand.

It was common in the Victorian era to photograph the dead as a keepsake. The girl standing is deceased, she is propped up with a stand.

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