TechKNOW Tomorrow – Digital Possessions: What Happens to Our Virtual Selves When We Pass Away?

Image by Marvin Meyer via Unsplash.

The only certainty we have in life is death. It’s a topic we try to avoid at all costs because it’s usually the thing that we fear the most. That said, it’s important that we plan for it, which includes creating a will that details what happens to our physical AND digital possessions after we pass away.

With each passing year, we become even more reliant on technology to help us with our day-to-day lives. As a result, physical media seems to be on its way out. We take pictures with smartphones and store them digitally instead of having images printed and organized into albums. We download video games rather than buy game cartridges or discs. Streaming services like Netflix have all the movies and TV shows we could ever want to watch, replacing DVDs and Blu-ray discs for the most part.

‘What’s the big deal?’, you might be thinking. Well, this means that most of us will be leaving virtual possessions behind to our loved ones. Your photos stored in the Cloud (virtual storage) aren’t as easy to inherit as a series of photo albums. To complicate matters, it’s not as simple as writing down your passwords; these are often required to change periodically.

Furthermore, it’s impossible to tell which virtual services will still be available in the future. PlayStation Plus, Facebook, Amazon Prime, Spotify… Who knows how long any online service will continue to exist for? In the blink of an eye, you can literally lose years of priceless memories if you don’t regularly back up data to an external hard drive or the Cloud.

Spirits in the Cloud

Image by Neda Astani on Unsplash.

The Cloud is used for practically everything we do online, from the files we upload to the social media websites we use for posting. For example, the only reason we can see tweets from people around the world – as well as live updates, edits, and frequent comments – is because they are stored on a massive server somewhere, just like our pictures are when they’re uploaded to Google Drive.

When you buy physical media such as “a hardbound book or music on a physical CD … The work itself is still protected by copyright, but the actual book or CD is yours. … The harsh reality, though, is that when you download a book from Amazon on your Kindle, or buy a new album from iTunes, you don’t really own anything“.

When you buy digital goods, all you truly receive is a license to access or use that content. You don’t own the songs you’ve bought on iTunes; you’ve agreed with Apple to have access to the songs as long as you’re still alive. That license can’t legally be transferred to others.

In short, you can’t transfer your digital collections. Much of what helps shape who you are – your “spirit” – will be lost in the Cloud, eventually deleted or scavenged by the companies you bought licenses from. No one knows for sure how long your files will safely be stored on the Cloud. Your accounts will likely be deleted after a small period of time following your passing.

If this sounds terrifying, don’t worry. There are some potential solutions that can ensure that your family and friends have things with which to remember you by.

How We Can Inherit Digital Assets

Think about any post you’ve ever made online. It could have been a blog post, an e-mail, or a poem you shared, or maybe even pictures or videos of a convention you visited. With physical media, you would have just written your documents on paper (like a book) or stored your photos in a lovely album, making them easy to give to loved ones once the time finally came. But how do you inherit a digital image or a blog post?

While licenses for cloud products and services expire when we do, the same isn’t true for content that actually belongs to us. The files and online posts we create are considered digital assets, and can be treated identically to physical ones once we pass away. “This means they can be bequeathed (providing we have actual ownership – not just a licence to use them) or, if they contain information which we wish to be kept forever private, deleted“.

And while it may be difficult to imagine inheriting a lengthy Facebook memory post, there are some workarounds. For instance, you could copy and paste your post into a text editor and save the file. You could take a screenshot of the post on your screen. From here, you can safely transfer the file to an external hard drive or a thumb drive, burn it to a disc, send it via-email/text, or even print it off if you feel the need to.

The point is, the post belongs to you and it’s your job to safeguard it. Family heirlooms are kept in a safe spot and photo albums need to be kept in good condition. Otherwise, your family wouldn’t have anything to inherit. The same goes for anything you store on a cloud server. The significant words or images we capture on social media, the documents, images, and videos we store virtually… All of these need to be saved, transferred, and/or printed.

Similarly, it’s important to include your digital assets in your will and to name a digital executor for them so that they can “close certain online accounts (such as social media accounts, subscription services, or any accounts that are paid for like Amazon Prime or Spotify); archive personal files, photos, videos, and other content you’ve created; and delete files from your computer and hard drives“. Regularly send updated username and password lists to the executor to prevent account lockouts. Give that person permission to delete your social media or paid subscription accounts.

Another important thing to note is that most cloud services don’t have a policy in place on the data we upload, meaning it’s still unclear what will happen to our files once we pass away. As we become increasingly reliant on cloud technologies, however, we may soon start to see shifts in policies regarding digital rights management after death.

Ultimately, if everything that defines us is stored virtually, then that means we need to progressively find ways to inherit digital possessions. The only way we can be sure that parts of our digital selves will be remembered is to safeguard our digital assets and transfer them to a physical format of some sort. Whether that’s in the form of an external hard drive, a series of discs, or printed documents is entirely up to us. You can – and should – even do this with smartphones and tablets (though it’s trickier to backup that stuff to an external hard drive)!

In short, the more prep work we place into our digital assets, the more memories we can preserve for future generations.

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At techKNOWtutors, we realize that adapting to technology isn’t easy. Although most services have closed, we remain open – digitally – to answer your internet-related questions. If you need help with improving your digital literacy, send us an email at techknowtutors@cscnl.ca or join our Facebook group and send us a message.

Better yet, sign up for one of our online classes that we offer for FREE every week! Until then, stay in the techKNOW.

TechKNOW Tomorrow – 3D Holograms on Your Smartphone

Image by George Lucas via Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope.

Think of some examples of technology that have become staples of science fiction literature and movies: spaceships, laser weapons, robots. We’ve witnessed the beginning of each of these technologies throughout the twenty-first century. On the edge of science fiction becoming reality, future generations will be able to experience what we could only dream about.

Another technology you see frequently in movies is 3D holograms. There’s an infamous scene from Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope in which a hologram of Leia appears to Luke and Obi-Wan. Back in 1977, that scene gave us an idea of what we might never see come to fruition, but it was still fun to think about all of the possibilities.

While we have seen several strides made in “do it yourself” holograph projections, most don’t work well unless they’re in extremely low light conditions. The technology was just not quite ready for the world. Thankfully, one company might have just changed that.

3D Holograms by IKIN

Image by IKIN via IKIN, Inc.

IKIN, a company with a focus on developing immersive technologies, recently unveiled their prototype for holograms that can be touched, interacted with, and produced on a smartphone in broad daylight. If this is almost ready for a public market, that means that IKIN are the first company to make such a breakthrough with holography.

We’ve seen 3D visual technologies such as VR (virtual reality) enter the mainstream, but most people still prefer to consume entertainment through 2D means such as on a television or computer screen. Why? VR creates the illusion of a 3D image, but it still is technically using a 2D screen, which can cause nausea or eye strain as our brains struggle to discern the distance and depth of various objects.

IKIN hopes to change that. While creating realistic 3D versions of what we see is difficult with VR, “holograms offer a shifting perspective based on the viewer’s position, and they allow the eye to adjust focal depth to alternately focus on foreground and background“. As a result, we may start seeing holography introduced into various types of mediums.

Image by Jon Favreau via Iron Man 2.

Imagine playing a video game with a view of your environment similar to VR, except that you don’t have to wear a massive headset in order to enjoy it. Or watching a hockey game from home, except a hologram makes it appear in 3D like you’re actually there. Even a 3D, fully interactive university class from halfway around the world doesn’t sound too far-fetched.

These are just a handful of the things that could be possible over the next decade. IKIN’s primary goal is to “design a truly interactive, high-quality, and affordable holographic eco-system, in which, every person will be given the tools to create, interact, touch and feel stunning holographic environments right in the palm of their hands”. Not only can these holograms be touched and moved, but they integrate with AI and adapt to create better experiences.

Most importantly, if the technology is affordable, that means that the ultimate goal with experiencing entertainment is to have it be more accessible and inclusive to everyone. For a society in which finding new ways to communicate with one another is fundamental to our continued survival (e.g., Zoom), 3D holograms could be a way for us to better communicate when a physical location isn’t possible.

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At techKNOWtutors, we realize that adapting to technology isn’t easy. Although most services have closed, we remain open – digitally – to answer your internet-related questions. If you need help with improving your digital literacy, send us an email at techknowtutors@cscnl.ca or join our Facebook group and send us a message.

Better yet, sign up for one of our online classes that we offer for FREE every week! Until then, stay in the techKNOW.

TechKNOW Tomorrow – The Future is Here: Robots that Help You Around the House

Image by Andy Kelly via Unsplash.

Back in the ’80s, there was an abundance of movies that attempted to capture what the future might look like. In 1984, the classic film, The Terminator, told the story of an advanced AI (artificial intelligence) system created in the near future called SkyNet. SkyNet was initially developed to help people with mundane tasks in their everyday lives, but as soon as it became self-aware, it sought to destroy its only perceivable threat – humanity.

Released the same year, Electric Dreams predicted a future in which home computers have become so deeply integrated into our lives, that they can even control our appliances such as blenders or coffee makers. In the film, the home computer becomes sentient over time and lashes out against its controller, sort of like SkyNet on a much smaller scale.

That was almost forty years ago. When you think about it, the fictional future these films created in telling their stories isn’t that far from the truth. Most of us do have AI assistants like Siri, Alexa, or Google that can communicate with us and help with spoken requests. Smart appliances such as fridges, coffee makers, and dishwashers have existed for several years now and are frequently being improved upon annually.

While the idea of a self-aware AI that turns against its creators is a far-fetched idea (it’s highly unlikely that a machine could ever become more intelligent than the person who programmed it), the fact of the matter is that we now have machines enhanced with AI that can automate many of the mundane, time-consuming tasks we perform on a daily basis.

By 2024, we will likely start to see robots in our homes performing tasks like cleaning out the dishwasher, vacuuming without any supervision, and even performing prep work for cooking.

In other words, the future is here.

AI and Life at Home

Image by Samsung via YouTube.

At the annual CES trade show, numerous companies illustrated CGI prototypes of possible tech in upcoming years. A couple of companies, however, actually featured physical prototypes to demonstrate how close we are to having these items in our homes.

One of these excellent innovations comes from a company called Nobi with their unique smart lamp. Taking the place of your current light fixture or as a separate one, the Nobi Smart Lamp uses motion sensors to detect the slightest movement. Unlike outdoor sensors, however, the light adjusts to the situation.

The light shines upwards or downwards depending on where you are and the time of day. At night, if you sit up in bed, it’ll shine towards the ceiling so as to not disorient you from bright light. Getting out of bed, it’ll then shine downwards to prevent falls or injuries.

The smart lamp can detect a fall and will even ask you if you’re okay. If the answer is anything but yes, it will automatically call your trusted contact or even emergency services. The device also includes an air quality sensor and a built-in smoke detector. All of these features combined can aid with independent living no matter what age you are.

Some other interesting inventions come from Samsung with their new lineup of robots for your household. For instance, if you struggle to micromanage all of the little details in your life (appointments, time management, getting enough exercise, taking breaks, etc.), Samsung Bot Care can help with that. This little robot can recognize and understand your behaviours and follow you around like a little companion, reminding you of everything you want/need to do in the run of a day to remain healthy and keep your sanity. A little bit creepy, but also very cool!

As if that wasn’t enough, Samsung also previewed two other nifty little robot assistants. JetBot 90 AI+, equipped with both an optical sensor and laser navigation system, is essentially an incredibly “smart” vacuum cleaner that requires practically no maintenance. While not exactly a new invention, it’s far better than models of previous years.

It can detect different types of objects and determine whether or not they are fragile while it’s cleaning. For example, it’ll be careful around an object like glass, but not so much around a metal chair. It can even avoid loose cables or articles of clothing that would require you to reset its position. Finally, with a built-in camera, this robot can even give you updates at home on your animals whenever you’re away.

Perhaps the coolest robot Samsung presented at CES 2021, however, was Bot Handy. The robot uses AI to detect and understand objects made of different weights and types of materials (a plastic bottle or a glass plate, for example). Bot Handy can apparently move around, set the table, load/unload the dishwasher, put groceries away, or even pour you a glass of wine after a hard day’s work.

The most interesting thing about these robots? They’re almost ready for sale and distribution to households worldwide. While we shouldn’t worry about the unlikely scenario of SkyNet trying to wipe out all of humanity, you may want to consider sleeping with one eye open if you plan on purchasing one of these robots.

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At techKNOWtutors, we realize that adapting to technology isn’t easy. Although most services have closed, we remain open – digitally – to answer your internet-related questions. If you need help with improving your digital literacy, send us an email at techknowtutors@cscnl.ca or join our Facebook group and send us a message.

Better yet, sign up for one of our online classes that we offer for FREE every week! Until then, stay in the techKNOW.