Digital Afterlife considerations
Before we dive into the digital afterlife, it is worth pausing to reflect on the marvels of digital technology. What would our ancestors think of our ability to access the world’s knowledge from a handheld device? What would they think if they knew we used that device primarily for shopping and picking arguments with strangers?
Digital afterlife admin
One of the consequences of having access to the web, is that it has given us another identity.
As you read this, you may well be involved in an eBay auction, or causing a storm on Twitter.
Increasingly we can parallel process our physical and digital lives thanks to auto-responding technologies – “Thank you for being my top tweeter of the week”, “I’m currently out of the office.”.
The overall trend is towards decreasing our physical engagement with the real world, and to increasing our time living digital lives.
But what happens on that fateful day, when the Grim Reaper decides that your time is up, and the option of physical engagement is no more? Should the undertaker be responsible for alerting the digital world of your demise, setting up an online shrine and e-mbalming your digital identity? In the digital age, our digital afterlife needs consideration.
No point totally dying
Physical death doesn’t have to mean digital death. For example, if you have a blog, you can recycle old posts on Twitter forever. Or simply schedule a tweet once a month for the next 100 years. Would receiving such a tweet unsettle loved ones, or lift their spirits?
Given the trajectory of artificial intelligence, it won’t be long before we will be able to download our memories into digital storage. Using those memories along with other inputs such as video, the technology could infer a personality, and thus infer how you might respond to events or simple stimulations, such as ‘how are you doing?’.
This in effect would make you immortal. You could continue to give parental or business advisory advice after your demise. The latter could be monetised as an online service.
Imagine being a world class advisor who can handle millions of clients in parallel.
Your only constraint being your cloud provider’s storage, bandwidth and processing capacities. Wouldn’t that be a legacy for future generations!
But with some avatar technology there is no reason why your great great …. great grandchildren cannot chat with you face to face. Imagine being invited to birthday celebrations forever via some form of Skype-like interface. You will need to consider how your humour / lack of humour and quirky behaviour will appear to your descendants hundred of years into the future. Given trends in social norms, what passes for acceptable though edgy viewpoints today may well be considered anarchic and heretical in the future. In fact, the government of the day may well proscribe your existence. Thus, requiring your algorithm to be decommissioned, and your memories erased. How will your tendency towards greediness play out if the future is one of hyper-abundance?
And what if your artificially replicated-self continued to mature mentally. What form would your perspectives take after hundreds of years of experience? Possibly ordering the Amazon ‘Processor plus’ afterlife package might well have a part to play in your ongoing cerebral development.
Let’s get physical
The next step would be to build you into some standalone technology. Perhaps phase 1 might be an Amazon Echo-like virtual assistant device with a facial interface.
Eventually using biological science advances, your physical form could be rebuilt in a giant Petri dish.
Thus, for all intents and purposes you would again have a physical world existence. You might even opt for your physical rebuild to stop at a youthful version of yourself. Your digital afterlife need not be a virtual one.
Will you be you?
The chances are you will be relocated into a body that is highly augmented compared to the one you grew up with. Possibly one immune to illness and tuned for Olympic standard power, speed, mobility and strength.
Or depending on how the world plays out you may land in an immobile functionless body that is designed purely to turn food and stimulation into dopamine and serotonin.
Given that this physical body is configured as you were in your ‘first life’, or at least a variant, and is loaded with your memories, for all intentions it is you. Or is it?
It is increasingly likely that a digital afterlife will be something we need to consider as we get our affairs in order for what has traditionally been referred to as death.