Tuesday, September 23, 2014

About immortality: an Interview with Marius Ursache - the co-founder of Eterni.me

Marius Ursache is one of the most interesting personality from post Ceausescu  Romania to arrive in Silicon Valley. His youthful and sophisticated, well mannered presence makes him the poster-picture son-in-law every mother desires for her daughter.  This is an excerpt from an article about Marius in The New Yorker - How to Become Virtually Immortal
Ursache, a thirty-seven-year-old designer and entrepreneur, dreamed up the idea for a chatbot-navigated Web site ten years ago while he was studying medicine in Romania. He repurposed the idea more recently while attending a program for entrepreneurs at M.I.T.
Marius idea was to create Eterni.me. “We all pass away sooner or later, leaving only a few memories behind for family, friends and humanity—and eventually we are all forgotten,” the Web site reads. “But what if you could be remembered forever?”

His idea is deemed controversial. We met in San Francisco a few days ago. It is very hard not to like Marius and not to admire his steadfast determination and elegant thinking

From New Yorker. Illustration for Eterni.me 
MihaWhat do you mean by "immortality"?

Marius: Death is one of the most disturbing facts for us, but we've been used to take it as a given. But what scares most people is not death itself, but being forgotten. The only way today to be really immortal is to be a famous writer, artist, scientist or philosopher whose ideas or actions change the world—and they are remembered forever. We want to offer immortality for your thoughts, stories and memories—that is your human mind, which defines YOU more than a physical body.

MihaSome jelly fish never die. They rejuvenate.  What makes humans want to live for ever?

Marius: Humans always want what they don't have. This thirst drives human progress, and I think it's a good cause. This is a thing that can be debated for hours from a psychological and ethical point of view.  Surprisingly, though, the day we are able to rejuvenate forever is not hundreds of years away. I recently attended a private event, the Palo Alto Longevity Prize, and learned that in less than 10 years we will have a scientific way to extend life to 120 years. If you think of cancer, it is essentially a celullar regeneration process which gets out of control. Hacking the DNA and controlling the process will allow our cells to regenerate perpetually, and I think that this is going to happen in this century. That is going to be, at the same time, the greatest accomplishment of science, and the greatest psychological challenge for humanity.

Miha: Some  rabbis  say that our true age should be based on how many years we still have to live. For example if one is 70 years old, the real age is (120 - 70) or 50 years old.

Marius: [smiles]

Miha: Facebook has  over two billion accounts, which is roughly the equivalent of one third of the world population. What happens to an account after the owner passes away?

Marius: Right now there are three options, all of which need at least someone from the family (or legal successor) to take action: (1) Freeze the account, meaning it will tell that the person has passed away. It will not show in searches, but will still be visible in your confirmed friends' search or (2) Remove/delete the account and all associated data. The last option (3) is to download all the content—this is a lengthy process which can only be done in court, and is discouraging for most people going through a grieving stage.

Miha: What does Facebook means by "memorializing" an account?

Marius: Here are some of the key features of memorialized accounts:
  • Facebook does not allow anyone to log into a memorialized account.
  • Memorialized accounts cannot be modified in any way. This includes adding or removing friends, modifying photos or deleting any pre-existing content posted by the person.
  • Depending on the privacy settings of the deceased person's account, friends can share memories on the memorialized Timeline.
  • Anyone can send private messages to the deceased person.
  • Content the deceased person shared (ex: photos, posts) remains on Facebook and is visible to the audience it was shared with.
  • Memorialized Timelines don't appear in public spaces such as in suggestions for People You May Know or birthday reminders.
  • Groups solely belonging to a memorialized account will be able to select new admins, while Pages will be removed from Facebook.
Miha: I know quite a few people on Facebook who passed away, yet they appear "alive". Few people bother to follow policies for memorializing accounts. Most don't. How Eterni.me will be different?

Marius: Well, Eterni.me is about creating a rich legacy, which goes beyond your cat or hamburger pictures, that is more interactive and tries to preserve as much of your thoughts, memories and stories as possible.

Miha's note: This will require high performance supercomputing creative techniques to extract meaningful and relevant data.

Miha: Did you consider other social networks as potential partners?

MariusEterni.me will look at all your digital footprint: not only Facebook and other social networks, but also your email, your personal files, data collected from wearable devices... ideally everything that can provide information about who you are and how and what you think.

Miha: This idea is so unusual that  it must succeed. Where do you see Eterni.me three  years from now?

Marius: In three years,  Eterni.me will make this dream real at least one million users. Long-term vision the number is 100x or more larger. It's not definitely another app or platform dreaming of a modest exit after the first three year or so. There is this concept of 'evergreen companies'—companies that aim to last 100 years. Eterni.me needs to aim much higher, as our goal is to preserve these legacies for eternity.

MihaWho are your biggest supporters?

Marius: The 25,000 plus people who signed up even before we wrote the first line of code, and who are asking us frequently "When are you going to launch it?".

Miha: What Romanians say about your idea?

Marius: Some are excited, some are skeptical—it's the same as everywhere in the world.

Miha: What about the Bay Area? How does it feel try your luck here? 

Marius: In the Bay Area, everyone is an entrepreneur and has a startup (even Uber drivers). It's like everybody being an actor in LA

However, there is no other option. Marius quietly knows here on the West Coast is the only place Eterni.me  will triumph. Let's listen to Marius Ursache in person in this ABC Fusion TV program. Just click the caption. 

Marius' interview at ABC Fusion with Mario Andrade

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