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: I am happy to build up my life 'profile' (which includes not just mapping chronological events in my life but also the trivial - things that make me laugh, a saying on a particular day, a poem, whatever) using a timeline, so that it's dead (excuse the pun!) easy for my children, grandchildren and future generations to search those 'stories' within the timeline that I have made accessible to them.

    If the site you use makes it as easy as Intersect so that you determine with every 'story' or 'post' who can see it with one click - there shouldn't be an issue with people you don't want accessing your information after your death.

    Within your account, you should be able, as suggested by one comment here earlier, to nominate a virtual 'executor' of your details. There could be a form that goes with this outlining specific requests. It would be as responsible as making a will. Just digitally.

    Are there any downsides to this?
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      Aug 9 2011: I'd imagine the downsides are similar to those of the wills we know today -- the executor ultimately not acting upon the wishes of the deceased, or ambiguity in the will complicating issues. With digital there's also the issue of the unforseen -- what if a social media site changes its terms, or gets acquired by someone else? The will probably doesn't take that into account (and it would be hard for it to do so).
      • Aug 9 2011: Hmm. Very good points. Clearly, I haven't thought this through! I think I better think it out again :)

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