An East Lothian based serial entrepreneur has launched an online “death tech” service – a secure digital “vault” that can hold important documents, account details, memories and post-life wishes.
The product, called Biscuit Tin, is aimed at helping people prepare for their death, giving family members peace of mind and minimal stress.
Founder and chief executive Sheila Hogan, a business architecture consultant and past president of the Association of Scottish Businesswomen, started the business following the death of her parents.
She saw a gap in the market for a way for people’s wishes to be captured and managed to ease the burden on their loved ones.
She says The Biscuit Tin is a secure digital response to the problem and can hold post-life wishes such as funeral arrangements, organ donation, guardianship of children and pets.
Hogan, who previously ran her own maintenance business for ten years, has secured Scottish Enterprise innovation grant funding and is currently on Business Gateway’s Growth Pipeline.
She said: “The company’s mission is to make death less taboo, and for it to be more socially acceptable to plan our own deaths, saving those left behind avoidable stress after we pass away by being able to access all crucial information, wishes, memories and instructions we’ve left behind.
“Our vision is for Biscuit Tin to become the UK’s most trusted digital legacy leader, with 5 per cent of UK digital savvy over 35-year-olds using a Biscuit Tin account within the next five years.”
During the set-up of a Biscuit Tin account, customers can choose nominees to be the executors of their digital vault, allowing access to all their data when it is needed.
Imagine you have a close friend you frequently communicate with via text. One day, they suddenly die. You reel, you cry, you attend their funeral. Then you decide to pick up your phone and send them a message, just like old times.
“I miss you,” you type. A little response bubble appears at the bottom of the screen. “I miss you too,” comes the reply. You keep texting back and forth. It’s just like they never left.
The possibility of digitally interacting with someone from beyond the grave is no longer the stuff of science fiction. The technology to create convincing digital surrogates of the dead is here, and it’s rapidly evolving, with researchers predicting its mainstream viability within a decade. But what about the ethics of bereavement—and the privacy of the deceased? Speaking with a loved one evokes a powerful emotional response. The ability to do so in the wake of their death will inevitably affect the human process of grieving in ways we’re only beginning to explore.
“Fifty or 60 years from now, [millennials] will have reached a point in their lives where they each will have collected zettabytes [1 trillion gigabytes] of data, which is just what is needed to create a digital version of yourself,” Rahnama says.
Donning it “augmented eternity,” Rahnama’s AI program builds upon the digital archive a person has left behind: emails, texts, tweets, and even snapchats. He feeds these into artificial neural networks, which are like model brains that understand language patterns and process new information. Thanks to the neural network’s ability to “think” for itself, the person’s “digital being continues to evolve after the physical being has passed on.” In this way, an augmented-eternity bot would keep aware of current events, develop new opinions, and become an entity that is based on a real person rather than a facsimile of who they were at their time of death.
Chatting with ghosts
Rahnama’s augmented-eternity programs are still in development, but another researcher had developed a slightly different kind of working prototype. Eugenia Kuyda, co-founder of Russian AI start-up Luka, launched a program on their app last year that allows the public to engage with Roman Mazurenko, Kuyda’s best friend, who was killed in car accident in 2015. Kuyda’s aim was to use digital-afterlife technology to create a memorial in the form of a chatbot available to anyone interested in talking to Roman. But she had her reservations.
“I was worried: Would I get the tone right, would we be able to do something that will help remember a person, and won’t be in any way offensive to anyone that knew and loved Roman?” she says. “I was afraid to get it wrong, to make it not a beautiful memory for a friend but something creepy and strange.”
In life, Roman had an interest in technology’s ability to “disrupt death”. He was fascinated by the bizarre consequences of being “outlived” by the vast archive of digital information we create in this mortal coil. Kuyda therefore thought Roman was the perfect candidate for this experimental memorial, and went about creating the bot. Once complete, she was amazed and delighted to experience her friend’s wit once again. Romanbot expressed Roman’s insecurities, his poetic perspective, and his self-deprecating sense of humor. The bot was so convincing it even earned a seal of approval from Roman’s mother.
But while chatbots are good at imitating their progenitors’ patterns of speech, they’re not satisfying substitutes for real people. “It’s more like a shadow of a person,” Kuyda says. “At this point, it’s similar to us talking to god, or imagining we’re talking to someone we’ve lost, or even talking to a therapist.“
Fans of the sci-fi show Black Mirror may recognize a similar situation as the premise of a 2013 episode titled “Be Right Back.” In this story, a widow uses a service to collect her dead partner’s digital footprint (texts, emails, photos, audio recordings) to reconstitute him first into a chatbot able to exchange text messages with her, and then ultimately into a realistic android. The narrative suggests that attempts to preserve our loved ones in a digital afterlife will result in painful repercussions. It also raises the question of whether a service able to turn a dead person into a chatbot would be venturing into an ethical gray area, interfering with our ability to process the reality of death.
Grieving the digital dead
Andrea Warnick is a Toronto-based grief counselor and thanatologist who studies the scientific, psychological, and social aspects of death. She sees a potential therapeutic application for digital-afterlife technology—not necessarily in its ability to allow us to chat with lost loved ones, but by facilitating conversations about the dead within their network of bereaved friends and family.
“In modern society, many people are hesitant to talk about someone who has died for fear of upsetting those who are grieving—so perhaps the importance of continuing to share stories and advice from someone who has died is something that we humans can learn from chatbots,” she says.
Warnick says the common advice is people should “move on” after a death. But she feels Western society could benefit from a reminder that just because someone is dead doesn’t mean they’re gone. “However, given our society’s general discomfort with death and grief, I have concerns that they have the potential to be misused as well, possibly leading to situations in which people are further alienated in their grieving process,” Warnick adds.
The hope is that chatbots don’t undermine the importance of human connection and support for those who are grieving; that the vivid and often uncomfortable emotional labor of caring for the bereaved is not wholly outsourced to bots. After all, death may soon be the most apparent thing differentiating humans from advancing AI, and distancing ourselves from its stark reality doesn’t seem like a prescient way to improve our relationship with the meaning of life.
Privacy is also an issue relevant to digital afterlife programs. While Kuyda had faith that Mazurenko would give her Romanbot project his blessing, she also crafted it with far less than a zettabyte of data. This is the amount that Rahmana sees as being crucial for an all-knowing bot to be capable of being all-revealing, too. “We have to consider an individual’s privacy when it comes to passing on virtual profiles,” Rahmana says. “You should be able to own your data and only pass it along to people you trust, so allowing people to engage with their own ancestors would be likely.”
Even as digital afterlife technology advances to offer increasingly accurate simulacrums of our dead, their most significant quality may not be simulating what someone we love might say, but rather their ability to give the illusion of them listening to us instead. “It’s not about what we hear, it’s about what we say,” Kuyda says.
In this way, chatbots can provide the bereaved with a space to express thoughts and feelings about their loved ones both in private and within their communities. In time, this could help normalize conversations about death and the intensity of sorrow.
Talking to someone from beyond the grave may sound creepy. But it may offer some measure of comfort to your loved ones. It’s like the high-tech equivalent of putting together a scrapbook, or writing letters for your kids to open when you pass. Plus, it’s less frightening to think of death when you know you won’t vanish wholly into the void—but remain, in a sense, in the hearts and text conversations of the people you loved the most.
does not provide a catch-all solution: digital material still needs to be saved, filed or deleted as part of daily business, otherwise government will continue to accumulate digital material in an unstructured way.
“For that reason, human information management activity will still be required for the time being.”
The transition from paper based working to email and electronic documents has “undermined the rigour of information management across much of government.” While little information has been lost altogether, much of what has accumulated over the past 15-20 years is “poorly organised, scattered across different systems and almost impossible to search effectively”.
“This not only undermines government’s ability to structure and preserve long term records, it also creates real and immediate risks for accounting officers, who may be unable to provide evidence for past decisions and actions or to meet their statutory obligations for public records and freedom of information.”
A properly managed archive of searchable digital legacy information would have many potential uses. One would be giving individuals embarking on new policy projects the ability to search for similar work before.
“Wasted effort recreating old work might cost government nearly £500 million per year,” the report says.
CryptoTestament’s new Kickstarter campaign provides tools to safeguard important financial and digital information
This press release was orginally distributed by SBWire
Montreal, QC — (SBWIRE) — 01/19/2017 — CryptoTestament, developers of new encrypted technology tools to secure postmortem digital legacies — including credentials and passwords, Bitcoin accounts and digital files —today launched its Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign to bring the digital technology to consumers.
CryptoTestament bridges the gap between estate laws, which grant families access to digital data, and privacy laws, which often prohibit access after a family member has passed away. As simple as using a thumb drive or saving a file to the cloud, CryptoTestament uses AES 256-bit encryption with a manageable console allowing CryptoTestament to unlock the device after death. The device is secured using the same certification used by the NSA and other govern-ment agencies. With the proper credentials and proof of death, the company works with the ex-ecutor of the will to pass the secure digital legacy on to the family member or confidante chosen by the client.
“In today’s digital landscape, more and more sensitive information, both personal and financial, is being stored digitally and is not recoverable after death unless family members have access to passwords and accounts. CryptoTestament aims to address this growing issue and preserve one’s ‘digital legacy’ for their heirs,” said Tom Falardeau-Leclerc, CryptoTestament’s CEO and founder. “Bitcoin accounts, for example, are not recoverable after death without specific creden-tials and families can suffer significant financial losses if they do not properly plan. Estate plan-ning must now account for digital activity, and CryptoTestament easily meets that need for con-sumers.”
Various storage sizes of USB-style encrypted devices are utilized to meet individual storage needs. Free for the first year of service, the devices are (all U.S. dollars) $70 for 8GB, $90 for 16GB and $110 for 32GB.
“CryptoTestament works like a safety deposit box at your bank,” Falardeau-Leclerc said. “It is an extra layer of protection necessary to preserve and secure all sensitive digital files, including cryptocurrency accounts, passwords, music, video, photos and more in this digital age.”
To learn more or get involved in CryptoTestament’s Kickstarter campaign, please visit http://kck.st/2jLNPpO.
About CryptoTestament Based in Montreal, Quebec, CryptoTestament’s mission is to secure the digital legacies of people after they pass away. The encrypted hardware and cloud technology ensures all digital files, passwords, Bitcoin accounts and more are safely protected and can be easily accessed by family members. Founded in 2012, CryptoTestament is currently raising funds on Kickstarter to bring this technology to the masses.
One reality of modern life is our increasing reliance on digital information and services. It’s difficult to take and then order prints of photographs, accumulate travel rewards, book travel, sort through financial records, communicate with distant friends, and even keep abreast of breaking news without a computer and e-mail access. Most creditors and banks encourage customers to “go green” and receive bills and statements electronically. Medical records and histories are increasingly available to patients and caregivers via online systems. Many people use online rental sites to rent their under- or unused vacation property to offset carrying costs. Unfinished novels and other valuable content produced by authors and artists will likely be stored on a remote service in the cloud, instead of locally on a hard drive.
There are many crypto and digital currencies, such as Bitcoin. Domain names continue to garner seven- and eight-figure sales prices: the $35.6 million paid for “Insurance.com” in 2010 is an extreme example. Virtual gaming is enormously popular: one gamer named Jon Jacobs built, ran and ultimately sold $635,000 in digital assets (including a casino called “Club Neverdie” built on an asteroid) that only existed virtually in Entropia Universe, an online gaming platform.
Despite the increasing prevalence of digital assets in our lives, few online account custodians offer customers online tools allowing them to provide for access to or disposition of any property held in these accounts, or even the records associated with the accounts. Unfortunately, the law has not kept pace with modern life and technologies. Digital assets are treated the same as non-digital ones by the majority of state probate statutes. This has proven unworkable, as the custodians of many online accounts have refused to recognize fiduciaries’ authority over digital assets.
In fairness, electronic communications and accounts are unlike traditional letters and accounts in several ways. As compared to paper letters, lost and even deleted e-mails might be easily located and retrieved from an e mail service provider. A decedent or incapable person might have opened an online account (to access embarrassing content, or a dating service such as Ashley Madison, for example) with the expectation that it would remain private and undiscoverable by anyone, including a fiduciary. Without evidence of the account holder’s intent, it is impossible to know for certain whether the user intended the account to be accessible and not private.
If you become incapable or die, your fiduciaries will become responsible for handling your finances. They will inventory your assets, and they may need to manage or close your financial accounts or business, pay your debts, taxes, and expenses, and distribute your assets to your beneficiaries. In today’s digital world, your fiduciaries need access to your digital assets to do their jobs and to monitor and close your online accounts, protecting them from cyber thieves. (In 2014, alone, $16 billion was stolen from 12.7 million identity fraud victims in the United States!)
In the past, fiduciaries responsible for managing assets of and for others could easily marshal, collect and manage the assets. Often, the biggest nuisance was convincing a recalcitrant financial institution to honor a power of attorney, and personal representatives and conservators, armed with court decrees, encountered few problems. That has changed, because digital assets can be encrypted, secured by passwords that die with you, or protected by federal and state data privacy and anti-hacking laws.
Even if the fiduciary can find a password, the account provider’s terms-of-service agreement (TOSA) might forbid account access by anyone except the account holder—implicitly barring a fiduciary from access. Online TOSAs are frequently silent as to postmortem options, and often simply prohibit postmortem transfer. See the compendium of a myriad of TOSA provisions, maintained at https://www.mylennium.com/domaininfo.
To ensure your beneficiaries and fiduciaries can access your digital assets, either to preserve and distribute them, or to destroy them for you, your Power of Attorney and estate planning documents must indicate what you wish to happen to your digital assets. To that end, your estate planning attorney will ask you about your digital and online accounts and will include appropriate provisions in your will, trust and power of attorney documents. Without your express consent in your documents, your family and fiduciaries may be unable to access your accounts, even if you have used a password manager or shared your access information with them. If you use encryption to secure your data, wherever it is stored, you must assume that your fiduciary will be unable to break it, and plan accordingly.