Monday, August 20, 2007

David Eagleman's "A Brief History of Death Switches": A new kind of software application

Death switches of the title are a new kind of software applications. It asks you for a password once a week. If it doesn't get it for a while, it assumes you are dead! It them begins preprogrammed actions.

In the early days of application, people used to send "I’m dead" emails to loved ones! With newer versions, you get better options, like “Happy 87th birthday. It’s been 22 years since my death."

Then comes even more sophistication, like generating appropriate periodical messages to convince others that you are actually not dead!

Eventually, "Most people have died off, and I’m one of the few remaining. By the time I die and my own death switch is triggered, there will be nothing left but a sophisticated network of transactions with no one to read them".

So we leave a legacy for any future aliens, assuming the machines keep humming to infinity! "When an alien civilization eventually bumps into Earth, it will immediately be able to understand what humans were about, because what will remain is the network of relationships: who loved whom, who competed, who cheated, who laughed together about road trips and holiday dinners."

Full text of the story is available online.

Fact sheet.
A Brief History of Death Switches, short story, review
First published: Nature magazine, 19 Oct 2006
Rating: C