Watching the promotional video (below) for Envoy, a real/unreal digital service that claims to specialize in reanimating the Facebook profiles of deceased users, you hope that it’s a hoax. “Two certainties in life exist: You are born and you die,” says Envoy’s Max Doughherty. “We know this is fact, yet when a loved one passes it’s still very distressing. Loss disrupts life. Envoy uses new technologies to assist in these moments, and it starts with a very unlikely source: Facebook.”
According to Dougherty, that very unlikely source is then manipulated by an application that uses social algorithms and “patented language tools” to mimic the speech and online personality of the deceased user, down to the slang he or she used when still alive. And in some cases (see: sad guy dining alone at end of video), the service can continue a relationship beyond death. The whole concept behind Envoy, however, feels like the setup for an art house cinema examination of the relationship between digital and physical worlds, or a social insurgency courtesy of the Yes Men. “I assume, of course, that the Envoy video is a sophisticated piece of viral science fiction. Creepy, yes, but thereby highly effective,” writesWilliam Gibson. It would not be shocking if Envoy is revealed as a cleverly packaged piece of viral media, as Gibson purports. But if the service turned out to be authentic, merely a beefed-up version of Facebook’s memorialized accounts program, that would be even less shocking.