TED Conversations

Adam Ostrow

Executive Editor, Mashable


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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: This raises a much bigger question: "what is identity?" It's not just about me as an individual entity; it's also about the footprint I've created, and interactions I've had with other entities. Identity in the absence of context is meaningless.

    I'm loathe to think that the lovely and wonderful things a friend may have written on my Wall, or the photos a family member posts on Flickr are ephemeral -- that they will be eradicated upon deactivation of that person's account. On the other hand, it's important to provide users a choice about whether they want to be exposed to photos and memories of a person they're grieving.

    As to the question of AI-created interactions post-mortem, I frankly don't think we're ready for that, psychologically. Mourning is a critical part of the human condition, and there have been SO many changes to how we undertake that process already. I don't think we've adapted fully, and the very notion that some insentient, digital version of my father could continue to interact with me feels like it would be horribly detrimental to my ability to grieve.
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      Aug 9 2011: Great points -- the grieving issue is certainly one that has come up in a lot of conversations since my talk and I think is ultimately a very personal decision.

      One application I think is interesting, however, is down the line being able to "meet" your great grandparents, or other relatives you never knew when they were alive. That's one of the things that's so radically different about the generations to follow -- they will know so much more about their ancestors than we do today.
    • Aug 9 2011: I completely agree with your last point Fatemeh. It would not only detract from the mourning process but leaves no room for dignity or respect of the person who has died.

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