Back-up brains: The era of digital immortality

San Franciscan Aaron Sunshine’s grandmother also passed away recently. “One thing that struck me is how little of her is left,” the 30-year-old tells me. “It’s just a few possessions. I have an old shirt of hers that I wear around the house. There’s her property but that’s just faceless money. It has no more personality than any other dollar bill.” Her death inspired Sunshine to sign up with, a web service that seeks to ensure that a person’s memories are preserved after their death online.

It works like this: while you’re alive you grant the service access to your Facebook, Twitter and email accounts, upload photos, geo-location history and even Google Glass recordings of things that you have seen. The data is collected, filtered and analysed before it’s transferred to an AI avatar that tries to emulate your looks and personality. The avatar learns more about you as you interact with it while you’re alive, with the aim of more closely reflecting you as time progresses.

“It’s about creating an interactive legacy, a way to avoid being totally forgotten in the future,” says Marius Ursache, one of’s co-creators. “Your grand-grand-children will use it instead of a search engine or timeline to access information about you – from photos of family events to your thoughts on certain topics to songs you wrote but never published.” For Sunshine, the idea that he might be able to interact with a legacy avatar of his grandmother that reflected her personality and values is comforting. “I dreamt about her last night,” he says. “Right now a dream is the only way I can talk to her. But what if there was a simulation? She would somehow be less gone from my life.”