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Automated afterlife?! Video service lets the dead keep reaching out... years after the funeral

By Benjamin Bullard
RIP Cemetery Headstone

It’s time to say R.I.P. to traditional farewells — at least, if one startup that’s thinking outside the coffin has its way. In a swerve from the conventional eulogies that send the dearly departed on their funerary final voyage, there’s a company that wants to bring an interface-y flourish to your life’s closing remarks… all while giving you more control, while you’re still alive, over how you want to be remembered after you finally check out.

Reporting on a tech-forward phenomenon that wouldn’t feel out of place in a Black Mirror episode, WIRED caught up with a growing Australian online services company called Memories that’s recently added a unique functionality to its menu of funeral arrangement offerings: the chance for customers, while they yet live, to pre-record a series of time-released video drops that show up in survivors’ lives on just the right occasion.

It’s the kind of idea that can look dystopian, or totally appropriate to the times we’re in, or even a little funny — all depending on the light in which you examine it. But Memories reportedly says its service is definitely meant for serious uses that are all heart: A dad who passes away with young children could re-appear to congratulate them on passing their driver’s license test; an older sibling could share a tidbit of wisdom with second-generation brothers or sisters as they graduate from high school or plan a wedding.

While there will always be kinks to work out in arrangements like this (what happens if living survivors’ lives don’t pan out the way you planned?), at least it feels like a logical use of available tech to strengthen the bond between friends and family members from beyond the grave. That’s more than can be said for some sci-fi fantasies that toy with the ways technology could one day wreak havoc on the idea of sticking around beyond your expiration date — as Robbie Amell learns to hilarious helpless result in Amazon’s Upload (which is on its way to a second season).

In Upload’s postmortem digital construct, your consciousness remains intact after you die. But opting in to the show’s virtual-afterlife service — a luxury available mostly to the wealthy — means relinquishing control, back on our side of this mortal coil, to the relatives and significant others who’re still paying by the month for your continued existence… and for Amell’s deceased character (Nathan Brown), it’s a deal that ends up being anything but a bargain. Thankfully (we think), the tech just isn’t here yet for post-mortem communication to function like Upload’s two-way digital street — let alone the full-scale leap toward computer-enabled immortality in sci-fi series like Altered Carbon.

So long as we’re still stuck straddling the bridge between the here and the true hereafter, the biggest potential headaches for people who take advantage of Memories’ digital video service will be limited — for the time being — to crossing your fingers and hoping that the living (and the service itself) stick around long enough to witness the carefully-prepared statements that the already-departed made… even if it takes years. What’ll really freak us out, though, is the day the first human watches one of these pre-recorded death messages…and the person on the screen starts chatting about present-day events.

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