By learning everything there is to know about you and your online habits, social network ETER9 promises a kind of digital immortality wherein an artificially intelligent agent continues to post on your behalf long after you’re dead. The future is creepier than we ever imagined.
ETER9, a startup launched by Portuguese developer Henrique Jorge, is still in the beta phase, but 5,000 people have already signed up for the service. It currently features a Facebook-like newsfeed, and a “cortex” that works much like a Facebook wall. But that’s where the similarities end.
The social network makes it possible for each user to “externalize” themselves, allowing for 24/7 engagement within the community, which are done via relationships called “connections.” These connections are only available through invitation and are subject to approval. The digital counterparts remain active even when the organic user is offline, performing such tasks as posting content, commenting, or clicking a “Smile” button.
Over time, the “interaction will be progressively more effective, taking into account the acquired information and its ‘experience’, and also the interaction between the physical part and the virtual connections,” claims Jorge at the Eter9 website.
These counterparts can conceivably live on after the death of the original user, providing for a kind of digital immortality. Of course, this isn’t real immortality; these agents do not experience consciousness, and even if they did, there’s no actual transference of consciousness—what futurists refer to as uploading, or mind transfer. At best, these externalized digital counterparts can be made to behave and function exactly like the original user. It’s better to think of them as behavioral facsimiles.
The name ETER9 is the combination of: “Eter” – the first 4 letters of the word “Eternity” –, and “9” – from the expression “Cloud 9”, referring to a state of complete happiness, according to ETER9.
The ETER9 universe also features bots, dubbed “Niners,” which can be adopted by organic users. The ETER9 website explains:
These beings, which are born out of thin air by means of a module called G9 (from Genesis 9), are available for adoption. The Niners are born, they reproduce and they may die if they are not adopted or if they have no purpose within the ETER9 universe. There will be interaction between the artificial beings and the system’s organic users, since the Niners will ask to be adopted by using the expression “Nine me”. Organic users will make instant connections with the Niners, with no need for approval by the Niner, similar to the process of subscribing a newsletter. Each Niner is born with certain attributes which define its profile and type (artist, musician, athlete, etc.) and they will relate to a certain number of items (pop music, football, etc.) according to that type, randomly or not. The adopted Niner is almost like a valuable assistant to the organic user who adopts it. It can only be adopted by a single physical user and its lifetime will depend on the adoption or the connections, if there is no adoption.
Gotta admit, that’s pretty cool, but the potential for abuse via out-sourced trolling seems huge to me. Nevertheless, as the community grows, the Niners will conceivably have more to do, and more reasons to exist. Hopefully the ETER9 community will capable of adapting to the inevitable shenanigans, otherwise usability will almost certainly come to a grinding halt.
This isn’t the first social network to promise a kind of digital immortality. In 2010, a site called Virtual Eternity did something similar, but it was eventually shut down due to lack of interest.
Email the author at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him at @dvorsky. Top image by ETER9.