TED Conversations

Adam Ostrow

Executive Editor, Mashable


This conversation is closed.

LIVE CHAT With Adam Ostrow: What should happen to your digital identity after you die?

The average social media user will create hundreds of thousands of pieces of content in their lifetime. Already, this is changing the way we remember our loved ones and creating a legacy that is much different than that of any previous generation.

At the same time, technology's ability to understand vast amounts of data is expanding exponentially, and in the long run, enabling the possibility of leveraging our social media footprint to create a version of us that can live on long after we're gone.

What do you want to have happen to your digital identity after you die? Would you give an AI permission to post content and interact online after your death? Why or why not?

ADMIN UPDATE: This LIVE CHAT will open on August 9, 2011 at 2PM EST/ 5PM PST.


Closing Statement from Adam Ostrow

A few thoughts in closing:

(1) There's a large interest in people assigning an executor for their digital assets after they die. A number of startups already serve this need. One issue with this though -- what happens when the services noted in the will change, close, get acquired, etc? That will create similar issues to the ambiguous wills of today.

(2) Lots of questions about whether or not the complete recreation of ones self, which I forecast towards the end of my talk, could make it more challenging to find closure. Outside of that, however, it at the very least seems like an intriguing opportunity for future generations to get to know their ancestors.

(3) In thinking about this topic, it's important to remember that the social media tools of today are incredibly primitive compared to what we'll be using in the future. The type of data we'll be capturing 5, 10 or 50 years from now is what's needed to make an AI-powered scenario realistic.

(4) Thanks to those that shared their personal stories of already dealing with these issues. It's a huge help in thinking about the topic going forward.

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  • Aug 9 2011: As head of product development for a company which is developing software intended to help preserve someone's legacy once they have passed on, this is a very important question to me. We believe that many people die without having shared all of the stories and memories they would have liked to with their family and friends. The ability to use digital technologies to preserve a person's life story is hugely important to their survivors. I believe that this should be an elective process--that someone should choose to set up such a digital storybook of their life, but that capturing a person's history to preserve for future generations is one of the best things someone could leave their family.
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      Aug 9 2011: Anti-hacking methods would have to be set in place, of course, to eliminate the possibility of a deceased person's AI being hijacked. Also, maybe the minimization of companies able to "prioritize" like they are able to do in Google searches.
      • Aug 9 2011: Our data remains private so it does not appear in Google searches. There are serious layers of security around our information so it is pretty well protected. I am not saying it is impossible for an account to be hacked, however, since we do not really have social network posting like facebook, there isn't much a hacker could do to act obnoxious.
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      Aug 9 2011: I agree, and I've heard a lot of great stories since my talk from people that are working to create such a legacy for their loved ones. One of them was actually another TED attendee, who put a QR code on his mother's tombstone that links to a memorial site that other people can contribute to, and in turn build a richer legacy: http://is.gd/MXXZE1

      What's your company?
      • Aug 9 2011: Legacyit.com Our motto is "Don't just save it, Legacy It" Our goals and objectives are very much tied into what is being discussed here today.

        We allow people to upload media and tell their story with a combination of text, video, audio and images. We also allow people to "tell the story in their own words" by using a webcam. Everything is displayed on a timeline of that person's life. Each story can have privacy settings enabled that allow the user to choose who can see each story, so the more personal ones can be shared only with close family. You may also elect a person to administer your account after you die.
    • Aug 9 2011: I use www.intersect.com for this reason specifically. I've had my 82 yr old mother sign up and write her life story on a timeline from 1928 to date and, as Zane mentions with his site, she has the benefit of easy to set privacy settings. I think it's an excellent idea, within the account settings, to nominate someone to administer your account and the data after you die. Of course, that person would have to be asked permission and to give it happily!
      • Aug 9 2011: Thank you for the information. This is a really interesting product, I will need to perform more research about it.

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