Rachel Grate
August 19, 2014 11:14 am

We’ve all seen the emotional posts that people make to a person’s Facebook wall after they pass away. Right now those messages only help with grief—but what if the deceased could respond?

A group of engineers who met at the MIT Entrepreneurship Development Program believe that they have found the key to immortality–in the form of an online avatar. Their startup Eterni.me launched earlier this year, with the declaration that you can “Simply Become Immortal.”

Of course, that depends on what your definition of mortality is. If your definition of mortality lacks consciousness or a body, then you’re in luck: Eterni.me is immortality through a virtual you, an avatar that imitates your personality.

So, how can you access this immortality? While they’re only accepting users gradually, the idea is that it will collect everything that you create online during your lifetime, from emails to Tweets to Facebook, and then process that information with complex Artificial Intelligence algorithms. These algorithms would form the virtual you that could interact with and even offer information and advice to your family and friends.

Eterni.me packages their startup with the promise of being remembered forever. I have to wonder if people interacting with this avatar would consider this the same as remembering you—or is it replacing the memories of the real you with false, technological ones? They promise a legacy for your family, so that even future generations who never met you could get to know you.

The idea isn’t totally new—Newsweek just introduced us to Eterni.me in the context of the world’s largest cyber graveyard: Facebook. Eight thousand Facebook users die every day, and it has over 30 million accounts of people who’ve died. To deal with this population, Facebook launched a memorial service in 2009, which locks a deceased user’s profile and turns it into an enduring shrine. Users can still leave comments and send private messages to the deceased.

Clearly, the demand is there. In its first two days, Eterni.me’s website attracted 3,000 subscribers and has reached over 22,000 since then. But I wonder how Eterni.me would make money. Would users pay for the service, or would Eterni.me follow Facebook’s model and get paid by advertisers (who now know everything about you and can predict your behavior well enough to fool your closest friends)?

Now, before I go and freak out that the world is becoming a real-life version of the movie Her, we can all have a moment of calm. Eterni.me says that a user would ideally teach the program to simulate them over the course of 30 or 40 years. But who knows, maybe someday our virtual selves will be telling our grandchildren about the good old days when people still died.

(Images via Eterni.me, Shutterstock)

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