What was the first thing you did this morning? Did you reach for your phone to check email, Facebook, Twitter? Open your laptop to play your favorite song? What was the last thing you did before going to bed? When you stand on a subway platform waiting for a train, what do see? Yes, the typical trash and rats in the tunnel, maybe a musician asking for money, but what about the other waiting passengers? It’s likely that most of them are on their phones in some way – reading an e-book, tackling their inbox, checking Facebook, or maybe listening to music.
This is something that is notable everywhere. When you step outside your office onto the street, or sit down on a bench in a park, there aren’t many people who engage with the world anymore, let alone strangers. Even walking, there are those who slow their pace in order to do something on their phone, never looking up at those who pass them by.
We put so much of ourselves into our online lives, our social media profiles, the technology that makes our days move at an LTE-pace. Nearly everything is done online, from our communication to our work to our photo storage. Along with providing us the luxury of instant information, a whole world of knowledge and ease with a swipe of our fingertips, these sites also record information about us. They store our Google searches, our Facebook posts, our Instagram comments. They use this information for more targeted ads, tailored search results, and in some cases have even given this information to the government. But now, there’s another way that we can use this massive amount of information, and one that will benefit your loved ones even beyond your death.
You may be hesitant, remembering when this went terribly wrong. Yes, as detailed in the Black Mirror episode “Be Right Back,” there was a flaw in the previous system. The program worked then by mining social media as a first step, compiling all posts, comments, likes, favorites, etc. to create a virtual version of a deceased person that living loved ones could communicate with through online messaging. The second step was more personal data sent from the loved one, such as emails, playlists, and voicemails, to create a voice feature that the loved one could speak to on the phone. This audio bot would have more intimate knowledge of the deceased person, allowing for deeper conversation. The final step was an artificial body, made using photographs from social media and any personal photos the loved one might send in, that could behave like a human in the world, going on dates, running errands, even having sex!
The problem was, this synthetic body lacked an inherent “humanity,” which disturbed the living loved one. It did things too perfectly, followed instructions too exactly, even lacked emotion unless told to feel. There was no variation in likes or dislikes, and anything said or done privately was not known to the body. This was a problem for the loved one who paid for the service and the body. However, with our latest upgrade to the system, we seek to eliminate these issues.
We have discovered that though people continue to put more trust in their technology, inputting credit card info and social security numbers without a second thought, there is still a part of themselves they hold back. Social media allows a person to detail what emotion they’re feeling, but limits what emotions are available (like, angry, sad, wow). All social media companies currently on the market also get their revenue from ad sales, thereby they tailor what you see (and therefore, what you can react to) according to previous searches and reactions that are limiting the gathering of information.
We seek to provide all our clients with more control, because with more control comes more freedom and personality. We have created Soul, a social media platform that works with the makers of artificial bots and bodies to provide you with the chance to design your own post-death bot and body, with the help of friends and loved ones. We gain our revenue not from advertising, but directly from you – while you may hesitate to pay, remember that you are providing your surviving loved ones with a more complete version of you, one that will not cause distress due to inaccuracies and soullessness.
The first step of our program is questions. These questions will be on a range of topics, from beliefs (religious, political, social, etc.) to sex life, to lifestyle preferences. Each client will begin by answering as many questions as they can in order to provide a basis for personality (there are hundreds, and we add more all the time!). Then, like other social media sites, they will upload whatever photos and videos they choose. By this stage, the hope is that they will have friends and family members also on the site, and they will build connections by declaring relationships, which will be verified by the personal documents provided when making an account. Then, those relations will be able to answer questions about each other, as well as provide anecdotes, providing a multi-faceted base for who the person is.
Each client will also be asked to detail their looks, from every part of their body. Every mole, every scar, the precise shade of hair color. Where possible, these details will be confirmed with images. The final step will be video recordings, taken from prompts given on our site. We will ask for videos of the client falling asleep, waking up, interacting with family, friends, and strangers. We ask for one year’s worth of recordings.
Not only will this process of uploading information and recording situations emphasize human interaction in a given moment, but it will also provide extensive examples for real human behavior, thereby creating an almost exact copy of the client. Our system will cross reference the uploaded data based on the relationships previously established by the client, and all of this information will go towards creating a lifelike bot and body that will behave just as the departed would have. Perhaps the best aspect of our program is that you prepare this yourself, with the aid of family and friends. You give of yourself to give to your loved ones who must live without you, and in a sense guarantee that you can live on.
____________________________________________________________________________

What I have tried to do is create a program that will capture the human soul. In the “Be Right Back” episode of the British TV show Black Mirror, a woman uses a program that provides her with a bot and then a body that resembles her recently-deceased husband. However, what she finds is that the bot is not enough, and the body is perhaps even worse, because it is missing the inherent humanity of her husband – it doesn’t have its own emotions or its own free will. To me, the episode emphasizes both the extreme amount of our lives and ourselves that we put into social media, and how little true humanity is actually housed on these sites. It is my hope that my project will highlight the almost absurd amount of trust and information we put into our online selves and the online versions of our friends and family, even while knowing that it is not true human interaction, and not a true representation of any given person.
Works Cited

“Be Right Back.” Black Mirror, season 2, episode 1, Channel 4, 4 Dec 2011. Netflix, https://www.netflix.com/watch/70279173.