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article imageStartup upending funeral industry with artificial intelligence

By Karen Graham     Aug 31, 2017 in Technology
Technology is so much a part of everyday life that is it only natural it should embrace us after we're gone, right? And that is exactly what is happening in the funeral industry. A person can plan their funeral in advance or become a digital avatar.
It's not unusual for folks to write up their family histories or special memories to pass on to the grandchildren when they are gone, quite often adding pictures and other little mementos so they will be remembered. But technology has taken remembering a loved one after death to a new level.
So, what if you could appear digitally to your descendants, talk to them or even hold a conversation about what they are doing? How would you like to post an Instagram update or express an opinion on Twitter? Don't turn up your nose yet, because after all, people do talk to the dead, just look at the number of seances conducted over centuries.
Picture of the national day of mourning in the Netherlands at 23 July 2014  the day on what the firs...
Picture of the national day of mourning in the Netherlands at 23 July 2014, the day on what the first bodies of the Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 disaster returned in the Netherlands. We all mourn when death comes knocking. On this particular occassion, the whole world mourned. CC License: Attrition, no deriv.
Maurits90
But on the more serious side, death does leave a huge void in our lives - Sometimes leaving us to wish we had just a little more time to say things that should have been said while a loved one was alive, or just because we miss them so much, a chance to talk again and share memories.
A life in the form of a digital avatar
Startup Eternime was founded by MIT fellow Marius Ursache and it wants to offer a similar kind of comfort to those left behind, in the form of bringing you back as a digital avatar. Ursache is not talking about ghosts or spirits but instead takes his inspiration from science fiction.
Eternime plans on using your online footprint, made up of everything you have ever posted on social media, including chatbox,
smartphone and other digital devices, then, using artificial intelligence, create a digital version of yourself. The digital representation of yourself would then be able to interact with loved ones and future descendants long after you're gone.
The New Orleans Hurricane Katrina memorial in St. Patrick Cemetery No. 1  containing the bodies of 8...
The New Orleans Hurricane Katrina memorial in St. Patrick Cemetery No. 1, containing the bodies of 83 unidentified or unclaimed victims of the 2005 storm
Shawn FINK, AFP
Eternime's algorithms will go through everything you have ever posted, for example, in this writer's case, the cake I baked for the Fourth of July and the article I posted on Famine in Africa, along with everything else I have posted. The algorithm will study my memories and mannerisms, learning how to be "me."
Eternime is set to launch next year. In its first two days, Eterni.me’s website attracted 3,000 subscribers and has reached over 37,000 people as of this week. One thing is for sure, though, Eternime is pioneering a new form of mourning, suitable to the digital and technological age we are now living in.
Using social media after death
If coming back as a digital creation is not your style, you could try DeadSocial.org. This website is still evolving, but they offer a variety of tutorials on preparing for death using social media, how to download your messages and pictures for use after you die, and there are even tutorials about funeral services.
A mourner pays her respects at the casket of 25-year-old Freddie Gray before his funeral at New Shil...
A mourner pays her respects at the casket of 25-year-old Freddie Gray before his funeral at New Shiloh Baptist Church in Baltimore, Maryland on April 27, 2015
Brendan Smialowski, AFP/File
The website also has information on how to go about making a will, making an advanced care plan and even creating a family 'Coat of Arms' like in Game of Thrones or Harry Potter.
Another way of dealing with death and in particular, mourning is to use a social media graveyard or memorial website. In Hong Kong, a shortage of burial sites has led to the creation of an online government-run cyber graveyard. Called Memorial.gov.hk, it was formed in 2010 to encourage people to use cremation and “promote sustainable forms of mourning and burial,” says former Hong Kong Cemetery official Cheuk Wing-hing.
Other websites include a Polish Virtual Graveyard, a Gothic-style website with atmospheric weather options; I-tomb.net, which situates itself in outer space; and Rememberum, a minimalist memorial startup that started four years ago and is still foundering.
However, as Newsweek points out, the world's largest virtual graveyard is Facebook. With a billion-plus users, there are over 30 million accounts of dead people. On average, 8,000 Facebook users die every day. In 2009, Facebook started its memorial service, a process that locks a deceased user’s profile and turns it into an enduring shrine. It is still possible to leave a message or other memorial, a way of mourning in cyberspace.
Here is an avatar of the author.  I could see me coming back to future generations  couldn t you?
Here is an avatar of the author. I could see me coming back to future generations, couldn't you?
Karen Graham
Where is this technology going?
There is no doubt that many of the online memorials, graveyards and other mourning sites have come and gone over the past six or seven years, quite often because the website owner lost interest, or they failed to keep the graveyard up to date. But there are sites like Eternime that are not only legitimate but run by people that really care about what they are doing.
Ursache says the Eternime team has been refining their product over the last two years, testing features, figuring out what will work and what won't. They are doing private beta testing now, and Ursache says the feedback has been positive.
For us it is really important to emphasize that we do not want to preserve the banalities of the life of a person," Ursache said. Rather, he and his team "would much more like to create a digital legacy that allows your great-grandchildren to interact with their great-grandfather — and beyond."
More about funeral industry, startups, Artificial intelligence, digital avatar, endoflife plans
 
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