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TEDGlobal 2011

Adam Ostrow: After your final status update

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Many of us have a social media presence -- a virtual personality made up of status updates, tweets and connections, stored in the cloud. Adam Ostrow asks a big question: What happens to that personality after you've died? Could it ... live on?

- Journalist
As editor in chief at Mashable, Adam Ostrow covers the tech, trends and people driving the evolution of the Web. Full bio

By the end of this year,
00:15
there'll be nearly a billion people on this planet
00:17
that actively use social networking sites.
00:20
The one thing that all of them have in common
00:22
is that they're going to die.
00:24
While that might be a somewhat morbid thought,
00:27
I think it has some really profound implications
00:30
that are worth exploring.
00:32
What first got me thinking about this
00:34
was a blog post authored earlier this year by Derek K. Miller,
00:37
who was a science and technology journalist
00:40
who died of cancer.
00:43
And what Miller did was have his family and friends write a post
00:45
that went out shortly after he died.
00:48
Here's what he wrote in starting that out.
00:50
He said, "Here it is. I'm dead,
00:52
and this is my last post to my blog.
00:54
In advance, I asked that once my body finally shut down
00:56
from the punishments of my cancer,
00:59
then my family and friends publish this prepared message I wrote --
01:01
the first part of the process
01:04
of turning this from an active website to an archive."
01:06
Now, while as a journalist,
01:09
Miller's archive may have been better written
01:11
and more carefully curated than most,
01:13
the fact of the matter is that all of us today
01:15
are creating an archive
01:17
that's something completely different
01:19
than anything that's been created
01:21
by any previous generation.
01:23
Consider a few stats for a moment.
01:25
Right now there are 48 hours of video
01:27
being uploaded to YouTube every single minute.
01:29
There are 200 million Tweets being posted every day.
01:32
And the average Facebook user
01:36
is creating 90 pieces of content each month.
01:39
So when you think about your parents or your grandparents,
01:43
at best they may have created
01:46
some photos or home videos,
01:48
or a diary that lives in a box somewhere.
01:50
But today we're all creating this incredibly rich digital archive
01:53
that's going to live in the cloud indefinitely,
01:56
years after we're gone.
01:58
And I think that's going to create some incredibly intriguing opportunities
02:00
for technologists.
02:03
Now to be clear, I'm a journalist and not a technologist,
02:05
so what I'd like to do briefly
02:07
is paint a picture
02:09
of what the present and the future are going to look like.
02:11
Now we're already seeing some services
02:14
that are designed to let us decide
02:16
what happens to our online profile and our social media accounts
02:18
after we die.
02:21
One of them actually, fittingly enough,
02:23
found me when I checked into a deli
02:25
at a restaurant in New York
02:27
on foursquare.
02:29
(Recording) Adam Ostrow: Hello.
02:32
Death: Adam?
02:34
AO: Yeah.
02:36
Death: Death can catch you anywhere, anytime,
02:38
even at the Organic.
02:41
AO: Who is this?
02:44
Death: Go to ifidie.net
02:46
before it's too late.
02:49
(Laughter)
02:51
Adam Ostrow: Kind of creepy, right?
02:53
So what that service does, quite simply,
02:55
is let you create a message or a video
02:57
that can be posted to Facebook after you die.
02:59
Another service right now
03:02
is called 1,000 Memories.
03:04
And what this lets you do is create an online tribute to your loved ones,
03:06
complete with photos and videos and stories
03:08
that they can post after you die.
03:11
But what I think comes next is far more interesting.
03:14
Now a lot of you are probably familiar with Deb Roy
03:17
who, back in March,
03:20
demonstrated how he was able to analyze more than 90,000 hours of home video.
03:22
I think as machines' ability
03:26
to understand human language and process vast amounts of data
03:28
continues to improve,
03:30
it's going to become possible
03:32
to analyze an entire life's worth of content --
03:34
the Tweets, the photos, the videos, the blog posts --
03:36
that we're producing in such massive numbers.
03:39
And I think as that happens,
03:41
it's going to become possible for our digital personas
03:43
to continue to interact in the real world long after we're gone
03:46
thanks to the vastness of the amount of content we're creating
03:49
and technology's ability to make sense of it all.
03:52
Now we're already starting to see some experiments here.
03:55
One service called My Next Tweet
03:58
analyzes your entire Twitter stream, everything you've posted onto Twitter,
04:00
to make some predictions as to what you might say next.
04:03
Well right now, as you can see,
04:06
the results can be somewhat comical.
04:08
You can imagine what something like this might look like
04:10
five, 10 or 20 years from now
04:12
as our technical capabilities improve.
04:14
Taking it a step further,
04:17
MIT's media lab is working on robots
04:19
that can interact more like humans.
04:21
But what if those robots were able to interact
04:24
based on the unique characteristics of a specific person
04:26
based on the hundreds of thousands of pieces of content
04:29
that person produces in their lifetime?
04:31
Finally, think back to this famous scene
04:34
from election night 2008
04:36
back in the United States,
04:38
where CNN beamed a live hologram
04:40
of hip hop artist will.i.am into their studio
04:42
for an interview with Anderson Cooper.
04:44
What if we were able to use that same type of technology
04:47
to beam a representation of our loved ones into our living rooms --
04:49
interacting in a very lifelike way
04:53
based on all the content they created while they were alive?
04:55
I think that's going to become completely possible
04:58
as the amount of data we're producing
05:01
and technology's ability to understand it
05:03
both expand exponentially.
05:05
Now in closing, I think what we all need to be thinking about
05:08
is if we want that to become our reality --
05:10
and if so,
05:12
what it means for a definition of life and everything that comes after it.
05:14
Thank you very much.
05:17
(Applause)
05:19

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About the speaker:

Adam Ostrow - Journalist
As editor in chief at Mashable, Adam Ostrow covers the tech, trends and people driving the evolution of the Web.

Why you should listen

Adam Ostrow is a new media entrepreneur and commentator. As editor in chief at Mashable, he is responsible for the editorial management and direction of one of the most widely read independent news sites in the world, covering the latest technologies, trends, and individuals driving the current evolution of the Web.

Since joining Mashable in 2007, Ostrow has contributed more than 2,500 articles, and under his leadership the site’s audience has grown more than tenfold to 13 million unique visitors per month, with more than 3.6 million followers across social media sites as of June 2011.

Ostrow has been frequently quoted by numerous mainstream media outlets including The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, USA Today and The Times of London among others. He is a frequent guest on CNN, Bloomberg and NPR.

More profile about the speaker
Adam Ostrow | Speaker | TED.com