Virtual Funeral of a Data Ghost
“Virtual Funeral of a Data Ghost” is a critical and speculative design project based on the year 2040. In this scenario, a company called Eternalia handles and stores our data. They offer a wide range of services, that make your life easier while living, and especially after you’re dead. By using their services, people can decide and control over their own virtual ghosts as well as decide if they want to have afterlife as an AI-avatar living online. In this project, the service as well as the alternative historical steps towards this future are presented through a memorial speech. The speech takes place in a virtual funeral of Anne, a start-up CEO and leading woman in the AI and data field, who had passed away due to illness. The project is presented in a performative way, as a speech together with audio and video materials.
IT’S YEAR 2040. Humankind had lost the track of data around thirty years before. After becoming data hoarders, who kept and consumed more and more, having endless accounts, apps and images, most of the planet’s population had a virtual version of themselves tracked into the coulds. These reflections of humans had become more valuable than oil or other old-fashioned goods; everything was built around the big data and ever developing AI.
Once everything depended on these clouds, there also came new consequences. At first, for a long time, people didn’t care about their own data or privacy enough; tracking down your consumption was made simply impossible. Until few warning examples came to public.
Ghosts of the digital world appeared online. Some companies had used their death users identities for their own commercial purposes, claiming to own the rights to do so. The people were gone, but their data kept on living as they reappeared in this virtual form. In the follow-up new laws where placed, protecting one’s virtual post-life. A new boom was started: companies and serviced to maintain and sort your data, once you’re dead.
In this project, I was fascinated by the idea how much of us is left in this world in digital form after we die. The process started from research and inspiration from the amount of data we use daily, and how much of data of us is formed through our lives, through several different ways. From Google Maps to online shopping histories, from bank details to Instagram photos, to give a few examples. When I started to understand the amount of data that is collected of me, I couldn’t help but wonder, what happens to all of it?
At the moment, I have very little control over my own data. If I would die tomorrow, probably no one would know or have access to close all of my accounts and apps; they would keep on going, and reveal a lot about me. In a way, that would form me and my personality in another virtual form. This of course leads to many questions on the ethical side. The topic and idea has been widely covered in science fiction and pop culture, such as TV-series “Black Mirror”, but somehow they felt more like a dystopian nightmare than a scene that would soon be reality.
Rather than being fascinated of these scenarios or virtual avatars themselves, I thought about my own personal experience and probable future. When I started to research more, I noticed that this is something we all have to face someday: people (especially in Western countries) are already using so huge amounts of data, and the numbers are not going down in the future, as everything comes even more connected online. The growth of data is unstoppable. It’s very likely that new businesses will arise soon for this, to handle and store our data. And this is something that should be considered sooner than later, as the situation is bad already. If I would be gone tomorrow, I would still keep on profiting companies, consuming energy and natural resources, as my data would still keep on living.
Metomic, 2019. Georgia Iacovou: What happens to your data after you die?https://metomic.io/blog/main/2019/08/15/data-after-death.html, read May 2021.
Medium, 2015. Marius Ursache: The Journey to Digital Immortality. https://medium.com/@mariusursache/the-journey-to-digital-immortality-33fcbd79949, read May 2021.
The Guardian, 2019. Amelia Tait: What happens to our online identities when we die? https://www.theguardian.com/tv-and-radio/2019/jun/02/digital-legacy-control-online-identities-when-we-die, read May 2021.