Published on March 2, 2013 | by Rory Moore and Rosie Conroy


Communicating from beyond the grave

A still from Black Mirror.

Black Mirror offers a bleak look into the future [Liam Daniels/C4]

Two weeks ago 1.6 million people tuned into Channel 4, to watch the start of the second series of Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror.

A programme, which in its three previous editions, has tackled notions of how technology is taking over our lives – without us having any real conscious recognition of the fact.

This edition of Black Mirror titled Be Right Back starts off introducing the audience to two main characters Martha and Ash.

Ash is portrayed as a social media addict, constantly checking his distinctly iPhone-like handheld device for updates on his social network pages.

As the programme continues, Ash speaks frequently about updating his social platforms even putting up old family photos of himself under the guise of it being ‘funny’.

Social media

Ash’s social media updates are constant within the programme right up until the point where he in is a fatal road accident whilst returning the couple’s hired van.

At his funeral, a widowed Martha is introduced to a messaging service that allows users to stay in touch with the deceased.

The messaging service analyses all of the deceased’s online communications and social media profiles, learning how they would have communicated if they were still here. The service builds up responses based upon all of the information that Ash published through the Internet.

The end result is an instant messaging profile – which speaks on the dead’s behalf from the grave, mirroring how the alive user would have spoken.

This all seemed like a very strange and alien future, one which you could see all the necessary parts already in existence, but one which you never thought would ever come to fruition.

Becoming a reality

Well prepare yourself because it is happening. Launching in March _LIVESON is a service which proclaims via their website that it will help you “keep tweeting even after you’ve passed away”. _LIVESON will help you do this by using its artificial intelligence to analyse “your main Twitter feed. Learning about your likes, taste [and], syntax”.

“Over the years and with advances of tech and platforms we may be able to imitate the way you talk.” Dave Bedwood

From this information _LIVESON will create your own profile – a Twitter feed which over time you are to improve by giving feedback, and in the process really help shape your future posthumous output.

Once this process is complete you are to nominate an “executor to your _LIVESON ‘will’,’’ at which point they can decide as to whether to keep your account ‘live’ and in the process continue your artificial online output.

The man behind the concept is Dave Bedwood, an executive at London advertising agency Lean Mean Fighting Machine, who has been developing _LIVESON as an artificial intelligence experiment with east London’s Queen Mary University.

Technological advances

Talking to ABC News, Bedwood explained: “Over the years and with advances of tech and platforms we may be able to imitate the way you talk.”

He goes on to talk about those behind the service. “They aren’t,” he explains, “as some people thought, bringing people back from the dead and then just posting the tweets. We need living people to make this work as they have to help train and grow their _LIVESON account.”

And _LIVESON is not the only social media app making arrangements for people to communicate with their loved beyond the grave.

“I want my memory to live on and for my friends and family members to receive unseen content from me for years to come.” Founder of DeadSocial James Norris

ALN spoke to the founder of DeadSocial, James Norris, who hopes his service will in fact help loved ones left behind in their mourning.

He said: “We are living in an increasingly connected world. We are spending more of our lives online, able to maintain friendships and forge relationships through social networks.” Norris added: “We are now starting to realise the importance of these platforms in death and in the grieving process.”

“We all create digital content when engaging with people online and in doing so create ‘digital footprints’. DeadSocial allows us to keep making footprints – in the theoretical sand – once our lives are over.”

Despite raising feelings of revulsion in some Norris insists that he intends to use the service himself: “I want my memory to live on and for my friends and family members to receive unseen content from me for years to come.”

He explained the reason for creating the brand as a result of his being “scared and a little fascinated with death”. This inquisitive nature along with a video by Bob Monkhouse, which saw the comedian appear in a campaign to raise awareness about prostate cancer, which killed him, inspired the establishment of his company.

Tormented for eternity 

But director of the Media Psychology Research Centre, in Massachusetts, Pamela Rutledge was recently quoted by The Guardian, explaining why generating artificial social media interaction after death could ultimately prove problematic.

Rutledge asked: “What do we do if someone uses this new extension of time in a way that torments or stalks its receivers?” She added that, “death is the ultimate lack of accountability.”

We here at the ALN decided to ask the students of UAL if they would use the service.

“Personally I wouldn’t use it,” says Eve Matthews, 20, Fine Art student at Chelsea College of Art and Design. “It just wouldn’t be right. It would be like taking all the photographs you’ve ever been in – taking all the parts of those photographs – and trying to build an image of a future you.

“It just would not work. Because it would just all be old recycled bits, there would be no real change or development”

So weeks ago, what seemed like a strange and unfathomable future service is now coming into action next month.

Whichever way you look at it, as the people behind _LIVESON try and pitch the concept to you, certain things are just best left unsaid – or should that be untweeted?


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