What Is a Dead Man’s Switch and How to Set It Up?

A dead man’s switch has often been brought up in movies as an interesting plot twist when a character dies, and as a result, some kind of backup plan gets initiated. This exists in several forms, and as a concept, it has been used in the military, government, machinery, public transport, and of course, as a form of software. With that said, let’s understand what is a dead man’s switch, along with a few examples of how it is used. Then, we will go through the steps to set up a dead man’s switch.

What Is a Dead Man’s Switch?

A dead man’s switch refers to a pre-engineered contraption, either mechanical or electronic, which gets triggered in the event of the user’s death, or if they do not respond as per the defined rule set. So, it can be programmed so that if the user does not respond every 24 hours (a hypothetical example), the switch gets triggered and activate whatever the user has programmed it to do in such an event. A few examples are below:

  • Safety Mechanism: A dead man’s switch can be used to monitor and ensure a human’s presence so that in the event a person who has a major responsibility (such as a train operator) does not respond for any reason, such as sudden unconsciousness or even death, some safety protocols can be initiated to mitigate possible dangers to other people.
  • Leaving Behind Wealth for Loved Ones: Many use this method to leave behind their wealth for loved ones. Instead of trusting a third party, using a tool like this is essentially a trustless form of security that doesn’t have any risks as long as it has been configured correctly. Some crypto wallets also have a similar feature so that the user can transfer their assets to the rightful owners when it’s time.
  • Continuity Assurance in Machinery: In a mechanical operation that involves many different critical operation points (such as a manufacturing facility), a dead man’s switch can be super helpful. It can be configured so that the operations keep running smoothly, even in the event of failure or lack of human presence in one of the critical points of the process.
  • Erase Sensitive or Confidential Information: You could potentially configure it to automatically wipe all of your confidential data from various places, as pre-programmed. So, in the event of your death, your interests are protected. This also sounds useful for undercover agents.
  • Military Tactic: There is an automatic nuclear weapons system constructed in the pre-Cold War era by the Soviet Union. It’s a dead man’s switch configured to be a doomsday device so that mutually assured destruction is guaranteed when required. It’s not exactly in effect right now but remains to be fully operational if needed (like if another world war breaks out). While it sounds scary, it’s aimed to be a defense tactic.
man typing on keyboard

How Does Dead Man Switch Work?

A dead man’s switch has been made in both mechanical & electronic forms, as mentioned above. To explain how it works, I’ll be taking the example of an electronic variant developed by Stochastic Technologies, which you can use yourself even today. It is available to configure on this website. But before we show you how to set it up, let’s go over the tool’s functionality so that you can understand how a dead man’s switch works:

  • You write a custom message and specify the people who will receive it.
  • The service will email you based on the specified interval.
  • You have to reply to those emails every 2 days, or even 30 days, depending on the interval.
  • For any reason, if you don’t reply to those emails, your message will be sent to the recipient.

While they assure that their service is secure, they flat out do not recommend you to use it if you are a whistleblower or have extremely sensitive information.

How to Set Up a Dead Man’s Switch

1. First, go to the Dead Man’s Switch website here. Enter your email address in the dialog box. Then, click on the “Log in using email” button.

Logging In Using New Email On Dead Man's Switch Website

2. Next, it’s time to log in to the email you entered above and access the dashboard, so you can start writing messages.

Using Gmail to Log into Dead Man Switch

3. After you access the login link, click on “Write a new message” to get started.

Writing a new message in Dead Man Switch website

4. Enter your recipients’ email IDs (up to two on the free plan), making sure to separate them with a comma (,). Then, enter your message and specify the interval. Depending on how you configure this, the service will email you accordingly. If you do not respond, the messages will be sent to the designated recipients. After configuring everything, click on Save Message.

Writing a message in dead man's switch webste
Note: The message here is entirely fictional.

5. Great, your dead man’s switch is now configured and set up. Do look into the pricing if you’d like to add more people who will receive your message, or if you want to set custom intervals.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the main function of the dead man’s switch?

The main function of the dead man switch is to ensure that the necessary protocols are automatically followed, in the event of human absence. The dead man switch is often configured to require human input.

Why is it called the dead man’s switch?

Engineers responsible for trains and other public transportation coined the term “dead man’s switch” a long time ago, and it was inspired by what the term implies. Back then, it was used to automatically prevent a disaster from happening, if the train operator suddenly becomes unavailable.

comment Comments 1
  • Randy says:

    This is a Borg test

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