digital afterlife

Is Immortality the Best Employee Benefit?

#5 | What would happen if companies offered their employees immortality as an employee benefit? In this burgeoning age of digital afterlife services, such an offering is closer than you might imagine. If you have never heard of this new niche in the tech industry, prepared to be amazed when you tune into my latest episode.


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About the podcast:

The Jim Stroud Podcast explores the future of life itself by examining emerging technology,  the changing world of work, cultural trends and everything in between.

About the host:

Over the past decade, Jim Stroud has built an expertise in sourcing and recruiting strategy, public speaking, lead generation, video production, podcasting, online research, competitive intelligence, online community management and training. He has consulted for such companies as Microsoft, Google, MCI, Siemens, Bernard Hodes Group and a host of startup companies. During his tenure with Randstad Sourceright, he alleviated the recruitment headaches of their clients worldwide as their Global Head of Sourcing and Recruiting Strategy. His career highlights can be viewed on his website at www.JimStroud.com.

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 PODCAST TRANSCRIPT

Hi! I’m Jim Stroud and this is my podcast.

In my book, “Retention is the New Recruiting,” I discuss perks and privileges companies dole out to keep their employees happy and on the payroll. One perk that did not make the book, because I just discovered it, is immortality. Yes, now, it is quite possible for companies to offer their employees life after death. And, I’m not kidding. Find out more after this message.

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I think for as long as there has been life humanity has been obsessed with death. Religion, myth and legends filled that void for centuries but now, we are in a digital age and people are looking at technology as an escape from what eventually comes for us all. Did you know that there is an industry dedicated to virtual immortality? Some call it the “digital death industry,” or the “afterlife online services industry” or “digital afterlife services” or “death tech” industry.  Whatever the nomenclature, here are just a few of a growing list of companies who are now selling (or will one day sell) everlasting life at an affordable price.

Tech firm Eter-ni-me is beta testing an app that will allow users to create a digital “avatar” of themselves after they die. How? Well… Eternime’s app collects data about you by harvesting your smartphone data, and by asking you questions through a chatbot.  The goal is to collect enough data about you so that when the technology catches up, it will be able to create a chatbot “avatar” of you after you die, which your loved ones can then interact with.

When Eugenia Kuy-da lost her close friend Roman Ma-zu-ren-ko to a car accident in 2015, Kuyda missed him so much that she created a chatbot of him.  Eugenia said QUOTE “I wanted to tell a story about him and tell him some things I hadn’t been able to. I put together around 10,000 of his text messages and together with a brilliant AI engineer on our team, Artem, we made a bot that could replicate the way Roman used to speak.” END QUOTE From that experience Replika was born. Replika is an app in which you confide in an AI-powered chatbot that learns about you as you chat to it. And as of now, the app has more than 200,000 monthly active users.

Ever-days” is a company which creates pop-up social networks when a person dies. These networks are used to notify people of that person’s death, and thus far have been set up via funeral homes, although Everdays has recently launched a consumer app.

Eter9, created by Portuguese software developer Henrique Jorge, is a social network that uses artificial intelligence to learn from its users and create a virtual self, called a “counterpart”, that mimics the user and lives on after he or she dies.

Hossein Rah-na-ma, An entrepreneur and researcher based at Ryerson University in Toronto, and a visiting faculty member at MIT’s Media Lab, is building an application called Augmented Eternity; it lets you create a digital persona that can interact with people on your behalf after you’re dead.

I imagine that any company offering these types of perks would no doubt get the attention of the press and a bit of buzz in their respective industries. I also think that it would help shape the culture of the company as a bit quirky, innovative and/or pragmatic; depending on how the offering is spun.  However, I admit to being split on whether or not I would recommend that companies offer these types of services as benefits to their employees. On one hand, I have the testimony of Marius Ur-sa-che, CEO and Co-Founder of E-ter-ni-me, who said his service was beneficial because people can use it to reflect. QUOTE “We had people from the beta programmes who said it’s like having an imaginary friend and it’s providing some comfort.” END QUOTE

But, I remain a bit skeptical.

At a gut level, I have to wonder if its healthy for people to interact with a digital alter-ego of their deceased loved ones. I mean, some might use it as a form of therapy but others might isolate themselves with the digital alter ego and not be able to move forward with their life. If you want to see an example of that, check out the Netflix show – Black Mirror. (I love that show!) There is an episode called “Be Right Back” that depicts a woman who used technology to create a duplicate of her dead husband. (It is thought-provoking to say the least.)

I’m also wondering, what if hackers get into the machines and cause these digital alter egos to say profane things; as a joke. (How horrible would that be?)

Or, finally, what if some company manipulates the grief of love ones to sell their products. “Buy Juicy Cola! Because its what nana would’ve wanted.” Now that may sound ludicrous at best, cruel at the worse but as of now, there are no regulations in place to police this industry. So, who’s to say what could happen?

Of course, these are just my random thoughts. I would love to hear yours. Leave a comment on my blog at www.JimStroud.com. Do it now or, have your digital alter ego do it for you later.

If you like what you just heard, hate what you just heard or don’t know what you just heard, I want to know about it. You can contact me via my website www.JimStroud.com or you can message me on LinkedIn, Twitter… I’m everywhere, everywhere, everywhere. Oh, oh, if you want to support my Starbucks habit by dropping a little somethin’-somethin’ in the virtual tip jar I will not be mad at that, at all. There is a donation link in the podcast description. Thank you in advance.

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