Among all the new industries created by digital technology, the so-called “Digital Afterlife” industry is one that few of us saw coming, even though it makes complete sense.
It is only recently that Facebook has understood this ultimate change of status, and now offers a “legacy contact setting” and “memorialized accounts.”
This is a rare occasion when Facebook has not been a market leader. Funeral companies around the world already offer pages for online tributes and eulogies, and there are several exciting start-ups in the space.
Eternime, for example, offers to “preserve your most important thoughts, stories and memories for eternity.”
The site offers digital solutions around preserving the memories of parents and conserving your own legacy, but the most significant leap is the idea of the "digital avatar."
“What if you could live on forever as a digital avatar,” the Eternime site said.
"People in the future could actually interact with your memories, stories, and ideas, almost as if they were talking to you."
The avatar is created from giving Eternime access to your social media profiles, and the algorithms will then scrape your posts and build a profile, creating a digital version which will eventually interact with living people in the real world.
Just add a hologram and a convincingly reproduced version of your voice, and there is a digital ghost.
More than 40,000 people have already signed up to Eternime, which was founded in the US by MIT fellow Marius Ursache.
In Australia, the NSW Law Reform Commission is undertaking a review of digital assets and is calling for submissions.
One submission, from Deakin University philosopher Dr. Patrick Stokes, says that people who pass away "have a right to be remembered or continue to exist as objects of moral regard."
“While there may be good reasons to delete some accounts, I believe the default should be preservation,” said Stokes.
He noted that social media profiles are a “virtual part” of the person and there are “prima facie moral reasons not to delete them.”
This growing presence of dead people online has been an unexpected side effect of social media, and their numbers are set to grow.
That means not only a moral and ethical dilemma to navigate but a rethinking of the philosophy behind virtual personas.
Perhaps even more importantly it is another business opportunity and one which is developing into a field for fertile innovation.