The team behind Eterni.me, which promises to let you chat, see, and interact with the digitized dearly departed, is fine with the haters. It also wants to help them connect with future generations.
“Everybody we talk to says yes, this technology is going to happen at some point,” said Marius Ursache, the startup’s chief executive. “It’s just a question of when.”
And after speaking with Ursache, I have a hard time disagreeing. The pitch, however, of interacting with a lost loved one just like we chat with our living definitely strikes a nerve in the uncanny valley.
“NO NO NO!!! This is creepy ...” was a pretty typical comment The Hive received yesterday in response to the idea, and Ursache said he read worse — including hopes that they would fail and comments about his physical appearance — after their initial launch at 1 p.m. yesterday. But the site obviously struck a chord: He said the page had received 36,000 pageviews and 1,300 email registrations in under 24 hours, with a lot of positive feedback, too.
“Everybody’s free to believe whatever they want to believe about us,” he said.
Part of the problem is the frame of reference: Skyping, the example they used, is for the living, after all. But speaking with the dead is not what it’s about. It’s about connecting with the past.
“It sounds like you’re talking with the dead,” Nicolas Lee, product development director, told me. “But you’re really not.”
Instead you’re taking the vast amounts of information people generate throughout their life, and allowing others to make sense of it. In the past, the deceased often left journals and diaries, private personal narratives that provide this kind of connection.
Now, however, we generate so much more information, unfiltered GChat, GMail, and Facebook archives are almost too much to make sense of. And so enter the idea of a digitized avatar to help bridge that divide.
It should also be noticed that the team, software, and company are all very, very new. As in, they came together last Sunday for MIT’s Entrepreneurship Development Program, a one-week intensive accelerator. Their team is distributed globally, and many of them already have other jobs (even other startups) they are running.
So while the site promises they will “launch soon,” their prototype is primitive and builds off existing adaptive algorithms, and only being demoed in private sessions to better explain the concept. A public release is years away even with Ursache’s optimistic scenarios.
But the team also insists the elements are more or less in place: The email logs, location data, and more exist, as do the necessary tools to synthesize them.
Ursache and Lee are also excited about the team that has come together around the idea.
“The craziest ideas get the craziest people, which is a lot of fun,” said Ursache.