Eterni.me wants to build an AI from your digital footprint, so you can have virtual chats with loved ones from beyond the grave.
"We don't try to replace humans or give false hopes to people grieving." Romanian design consultant Marius Ursache, cofounder of Eterni.me, needs to clear this up quickly. Because when you're building a fledgling artificial intelligence company that promises to bring back the dead -- or at least, their memories and character, as preserved in their digital footprint -- for virtual chats with loved ones, expect a lot of flack.
The site launched with the look of any other Silicon Valley internet startup, but a definitively new take on an old message. While social media companies want you to share and create the story of you while you're alive, and lifelogging company Memoto promises to capture "meaningful [and shareable] moments", Eterni.me wants to wrap that all up for those you leave behind into a cohesive AI they can chat with.
Three thousand people registered to the service within the first four days of the site going live, despite there being zero product to make use of (a beta version is slated for 2015). So with a year to ponder your own mortality, why the excitement for a technology that is, at this moment, merely a proof of concept?
The company's motto is "it's like a Skype chat from the past," but it's still very much about crafting how the world sees you -- or remembers you, in this case -- just as you might pause and ponder on hitting Facebook's post button, wondering till the last if your spaghetti dinner photo/comment really gets the right message across. On its more troubling side, the site plays on the fear that you can no longer control your identity after you're gone; that you are in fact a mere mortal. "The moments and emotions in our lifetime define how we are seen by our family and friends. All these slowly fade away after we die -- until one day… we are all forgotten," it says in its opening lines -- scroll down and it provides the answer to all your problems: "Simply Become Immortal". Part of the reason we might identify as being immortal -- at least unconsciously, as Freud describes it -- is because we craft a life we believe will be memorable, or have children we believe our legacy will live on in. Eterni.me's comment shatters that illusion and could be seen as opportunistic on the founders' part. The site also goes on to promise a "virtual YOU" that can "offer information and advice to your family and friends after you pass away", a comfort to anyone worried about leaving behind a spouse or children.
The ultimate stumbling block might be, however, the something that's worse than the fear of being forgotten. Admitting you're going to die one day. It's a tough sell, to persuade someone to confess to the secret of their heroism.