One of the great things about social media is the way it keeps you connected with your friends and loved ones. Whether it's family members in other states, children attending college or coworkers you worked with for years, we now have the ability to keep in touch in ways that were never possible before. But what are the boundaries of staying connected? Death? Well, maybe not.
According to Simon McKeown, social media could make living beyond the grave a possibility, just in a different form than we might expect. Imagine your parent, cousin, or spouse as their very own avatar. Imagine being able to communicate with them even after they're dead. In 50 years, McKeown says this may be possible. But how?
The simple fact is that people today spend a great deal of time online. The information we share on our blogs, Twitter accounts and Facebook feeds is out there, presenting a synthetic version of ourselves, so to speak.
As creepy as it sounds, our personal avatars could already be out there, just waiting for the right computer algorithm, or formula for solving a problem, to come along that makes it "alive." And we're closer to that algorithm than we think.
This project is what McKeown calls "Preserved Memories," and is essentially the process of reconstructing a 3-D shape, based on a person's shared photographs, videos and status updates. In a nutshell, future generations may be able to upload themselves, or at least their personalities, into another form.
One person helping to make this a reality is Martine Rothblatt, founder of United Therapeutics. The work to make this possible has already begun, and Rothblatt's online service, Lifenaut, is contributing to the movement. Right now, the service offers a series of personality tests and combines that with data collected from the user's online profiles, but it's about to go further.
Eventually, the team plans to convert this data into walking, talking robots that have the ability to fully interact with others. Maybe it's far-fetched, or maybe it's the next phase of human evolution.
Rothblatt believes a digital existence is the next step, and that it carries great prospects. "You will be able to add to your family tree and select new family members, including famous faces and legends, all of whom will already know about you," he says. And the impact of this digital transparency would be huge. Your doctor would have immediate access to your medical history; stores would have access to your previous transactions; employers would know of your past successes and failures.