Idea #20: Digital will

Digital will

Firstly, apologies to my many fans for such a long break. I have been eating pizza at Bricco Cafe, Huaihai Lu, Shanghai. Join me. I will be there on Monday wearing an inside-out-watermelon-coloured jumper.

Secondly, have you ever considered your certain and impending death? I bet you have!

More specifically, have you ever considered what will happen to your digital assets when you die? I bet you haven’t!

What do I mean, digital assets? I mean all the emails you’ve poured your living heart into, all your hard-earned PayPal money, your soulful blog posts, your countless, pouting, one-armed profile pics, pictures of your one-armed dog, all those Google Docs overflowing with world-changing ideas…

Yes. All that.

What you need, my son (be you a man), is a digital will.

Yes, email providers might let relatives access your email if shown your death certificate (the Yahoo scandal where a dead Marine’s wife was refused access to his email probably helped put this policy on the agenda). But maybe you don’t want everyone to read your private emails when you’re dead? Maybe you’ve been a liar and a cheat?

What’s more, most of the online services with which you’re forging your digital self don’t have much of a death policy:

Facebook offers to memorialize a page by freezing it in time, but Flickr refuses all access to an account and Twitter does not even address death directly in its FAQ. (BBC)

Like I say, you need a digital will.

There are a few companies already offering something like this. Legacy Locker is a storage service for passwords to online accounts, so people you choose can have access to them when you depart the Twittering world. Swiss DNA Bank will let you store your files on their server and self-swab your DNA, both of which will be kept – forever – in a nuclear bunker under a mountain in the Swiss Alps. Sensitively-named Death Switch

…prompts you for your password on a regular schedule to make sure you are still alive. When you do not enter your password for some period of time, the system prompts you again several times. With no reply, the computer deduces you are dead or critically disabled, and your pre-scripted messages are automatically emailed to those named by you.

Well, I dont hear from anyone much anymore but its nice to get those password checks.

"Well, I don't hear from anyone much anymore but it's nice to get those password checks."

These services are fine and dandy, but you’d be well advised to set up your own, for three reasons:

  1. Over the next few decades, the digital corpses are going to pile up in ever-greater numbers, as we see the looming deaths of people who were not too old to learn about the internet in the 90s.
  2. The existing services are not sophisticated. Maybe people want to divide up their digital assets within a service, e.g. leave different sets of photos to different people. You don’t want your grandchildren to see the drunken, semi-naked tomfoolery you got up to at their age, but you might want them to see your Iraq war videos.
  3. There is nothing legally binding about the existing services. Ok, so Deathswitch sends an email. What if it misfires? ┬áThat’s your only chance at an encore, ruined! You want this digital will to be part of a legal structure, like a full-on Last Will and Testament don’t you? Pioneer it!

If all this talk of death has got you down, get up – there is hope: according to Ray Kurzweil (whose book The Singularity Is Near
I’m reading at the moment) et al, before we die we’ll be able to create our minds in digital form, and thus outlive the withering of our bodies.

I’m with him, but if you don’t buy into that, buy (it’s available) and become a legal executor on behalf of lost digital souls before the domain becomes occupied by the uploaded mind of someone called William.

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