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: Hi- I was briefly in a class in which the professor maintained that online identity constituted a separate identity from the individual and could continue on as a real identity. This seems quite poetic, but I had a tough time with the related concepts discussed, such as that fictional identities created would form separate personalities of the individual, e.g. the middle-aged man would really have an aspect of self that is a 14 year old girl (I dropped the class and went on to a PhD in cultural psych). Might you comment about the perpetuity of actual self online and the reality of alternate selves?
    Thank you and best wishes
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      Aug 9 2011: Hey Stephen -- A lot of people have mentioned this since my talk. Some people definitely project something online that isn't necessarily the "real" them. I think as social media tools evolve though, that could become less of an issue. The tools of 20, 30, or 40 years from now are going to be so much more advanced than what we're using now it's hard to comprehend.
      • Aug 9 2011: Oh! OH!!!! That's a good point. It seems very far but...maybe it won't. Will we be reaching a time where the real me and the me online could be one and the same? Surelly we are closer. If this is an interesting topic, it will be more and more interesting as years go by and online life goes evoluting.
      • Aug 9 2011: I agree that social media will cause an evolution of sense of self. It will be pretty interesting to see how that affects individual psychology and constitution of personality.
    • Aug 9 2011: That is an interesting concept. Certainly many people create digital personas to express themselves in different ways. I don't know that I would be willing to accept that this is a truely different "person" than the individual who is behind the creation of this identity. It is just another social mask that people wear to hide behind and protect themselves from dealing with others directly, digital or not. My guess is that the person will be most missed by those who knew his or her real identity and personality, rather than online friends sharing in the charade.
      • Aug 9 2011: Zane, I agree on both aspects of your comment. It was my belief that the "alternate identities" are social masks that made me drop that course, though "personality" indeed derives from "persona," or mask. Who will miss one most may alter, if we become increasingly connected across virtual space. Thanks for the comment.

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