Jesse de Agustin, Strategist (follow Jesse on Twitter: @JdeAgustin)

Imagine: I am struck by an 18-wheeler on the New Jersey Turnpike and fall to my unfortunate death. While I’d be dead, pressing legal – and philosophical questions remain. Does “Jesse” continue to “persist” across time through his online profiles? Do they turn into any one else’s property after my death? While this inquiry might seem immaterial, when philosophical theories of personal identity are placed under the social media spotlight, this becomes a pressing issue.

I came across an excellent iTunes U, University of Hertfordshire podcast by Patrick Stokes exploring these issues. In his talk, “Do the Dead Live on in Facebook?” Stokes argues that while people are ‘. . . anchored to their bodies, it doesn’t mean their online identities are not extended dimensions of our offline identity. . .’ Therefore, Stokes argues in a way, persons “survive” their death through social media profiles even though ‘selves’ do not.

Facebook for instance, allows the deceased users’ page to be memorialized. Confirmed friends may write comments on the wall but the deceased is not searchable or open to friend requests. Only immediate family can request the removal of the account. Yet this seems odd; that simply by virtue of being dead in the “physical” world the person must somehow live on via social media. In other words, why is “memorializing” Facebook’s default option? 

Yet if social media profiles are “extensions” of one’s personal identity in the digital space, it’s odd to say that a person could “live on” through their profile without the actual “self” actively experiencing that survival.

Imagine if one day, Artificial Intelligence could operate my accounts after death, in a similar fashion as I currently do. If this becomes the case, it seems that the “human” element has been stripped from social media if a non-human entity continues to “manage” my profiles.

One company, Intellitar allows persons to upload photos, information, and the Artificial Intelligence system allows one to “interact” with someone who is dead, to a certain degree. This is fascinating yet rather creepy; and beyond individual profiles, this presents an interesting conundrum for brands. If social media effectively gives brands a “human” voice and provides a vessel into a brand’s “conscience” then it seems that a brand risks loosing this human personalization thanks to Artificial Intelligence – even though the machine would come across as a thinking, but not human entity.

What’s your view?