Jay Lake (jaylake) wrote,
Jay Lake

[cancer|personal] Digital ghosts and virtual me

Yesterday I saw my therapist. We talked about a number of issues. My life moves very fast these days in more than one sense. One subject was the whole question of me having both a documentarist and an archivist. As I said to them, this is the water I swim in. I don't think about it much. But those are in fact both very weird things.

That got us onto the question of digital archiving, pace [info]rarelylynne (the aforementioned archivist). I was explaining to my therapist that Lynne and I were talking through a number of issues around post-mortem disposition of my social media and other online assets. Which led in turn to the concept of being a digital ghost.

Years after I am gone, I will still be receiving emails for everything from breast enlargement to tech upgrades. This is especially true if my heirs, my literary trust or the archives maintain my email address on an active basis. (Right now I have no idea what direction this will go in, that being one of many outstanding issues.) My blogging, my Facebook and Twitter posts, the references to me on review sites and SF news sites and so on — it will all persist. Trailing off to a long tail of course, but I suspect even decades after my death you will still find traces of me in whatever future equivalent we have to the online world.

Which is both kind of cool and kind of weird.

At that point, my therapist commented that there is enough of me recorded electronically that someone could re-create me someday. I pointed out to them that my entire genome exists in data form now and I could be recreated in more than one sense. In point of fact, I am in discussions with my computational biologist friends about publishing my entire genome as open source data. Why not? Human genome data isn't terribly easy to come by still, and it might do some good, especially for small dollar and hobbyist researchers. And, well, it's another form of digital immortality, right? I could be the electronic equivalent of Henrietta Lacks. And my open source genome helps lead to any kind of useful discoveries, then my cancer and your fundraising generosity will simply have done a little more good in the world. It's already been done here, so I have a template from which to model this effort.

The conversation also made me think about my digital corpus. I am an incredibly well documented person at this point. I have approximately 3,000,000 words of published fiction. My blogging and other public comments (interviews and whatnot) amount to at least that many words again, possibly more. Call it 6,000,000 words available from publicly accessible sources. (And I suspect that number is conservative.) Tap the past almost twenty years of my email archives and that amount goes up by another 50-100%. One could get really crazy and dive into my 6,000 pages of medical records and Waterloo Productions' hundreds of hours of film for additional resources.

That's a hell of a lot of words. I can imagine a coding project to create virtual Jay — vJay? — a version of ELIZA who would converse in my words and with (some of) my thoughts after I am gone.

I wish I knew someone who had the right skills and resources to take that on, so I could collaborate to whatever degree possible before cancer claims my life. I think it would be intensely cool. Combine a vJay with open sourcing my genome and I would indeed be a digital ghost.

Would you support a vJay project? How would you go about getting it done?

And what do you think of my genome being open source?

Tags: cancer, cool, health, personal, science, tech

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