Eternal Life Online
CNN.com, (not my favorite news source but so easy to type) has an interesting article about services that manage your online life after you are dead. These services come in a broad range of areas. Legacy Locker remembers all your online passwords and gives them to your loved ones in the case of your death. Asset Lock lets you build an online repository for things you own digitally to pass on. My personal favorite Eternal Space lets you set up a myspace like account for your dead loved one to host all the things you loved about them. In my opinion all of these services are the very first baby steps towards eternal life. Here is how it will work.
So all of you tweeters, facebookies, and mmorpgers are spending a huge amount of time uploading your existence to the web. Every action that you take on the web is being recorded for posterity. When you die all input stops, leaving a gaping whole in the virtual space. You will quickly be forgotten in the mess of ADD status updates, tweets, and guild chats. That is unless you enlist some type of service to perpetuate yourself after your death. Clearly the first round of the services have arrived, but they can only get better.
As artificial intelligence gets better its first task will be imitate people. There are many futurists who think that AI will be able realistically emulate people by 2025. Now imagine an AI system that tracks all of your status up dates, tweets, and emoticons over years and years. At first your emulator could be like a personal assistant that answers basic emails, tweets, and texts. Over time your digital doppelganger would get to know what makes you happy, sad, angry, and interested. It would learn that you swear when talking about things you like and that talk a lot about politics. After a lifetime of being your little buddy and learning just how you work, your AI emulator will know you incredibly well.
When you die your AI would finally get a chance to take the driver’s seat. And why not, its been learning to be you since birth. It has all of your baby pics, college drinking videos, and old stories stored in its virtual brain. So now your grand kid won’t have to miss your dead butt at their college graduation. Your unappreciative son can finally learn to appreciate you. And you can be sure your pet dog gets just the type of care you always demanded. All of this is courtesy of your life long personal assistant who you have learned to trust implicitly. Who better to divvy up your will, your philanthropic contributions, and your set up your funeral than mini-you?
Having all of these AI ghosts doing good through the net or in some robotic body will soon raise many questions. Will they gain rights as real people? It will not be to long until some one develops a way for computers to link directly to your brain. When an AI computer has been able to study your brain patterns for a lifetime people will come to believe that it can house your spirit after physical death. Knowing that you will live on in another virtual form will be very comforting for many people. It certainly was true for the villain of my favorite TV movie from childhood, Knight Rider 2010. He built a machine that sucked your spirit and consciousness into a crystal computer thingy. Ultimately a woman gets trapped in a mustang which ruled. At some point people will come to believe that they can transfer into a computer and gain eternal life.
In futurist circles the idea of a technological singularity has been gaining steam. The idea is that technology has been growing at an exponentially faster rate for a long time. In 2045 the rate of technological growth will be nearly vertical. And at that moment everything will change. My theory is that the singularity will occur when a people come to believe it is possible to transfer their spirit and consciousness into a computer. Even if your physical existence ceases, if your loved ones are convinced you live on in a virtual form, then that AI being will be you. If it acts like you, talks like you, thinks like you, learns like you, and loves like you, isn’t it you? Your virtual emulator will essentially grant you eternal life. And the good news it is an evolving AI, so ultimately it will be way smarter than you. Eventually these AI ghosts could have a larger population that physical humans.
Making Second Skin we interviewed Edward Castronova and he explained his image of the end of the world. Basically he imagined a place where a super virus kept people from all physical contact. Instead everyone interacted in a cyber world through a virtual reality interface. But in the cyber world there would be no death, as AI would take over a person’s avatar after their death. Castronova imagined that the last person on the earth would die alone in a virtual bubble thinking all their loved ones were still alive. All that would remain would be a virtual world populated by AI bots acting like the people that they were modeled after. What an image?
Could evolution actually be pushing us in this direction? Frankly I think schtupping is way to much fun to stop, and I don’t believe in super viruses. Also religious conservatism will prevent many sections of the population from ever accepting this type of life after death. So human beings will continue existing in a physical form for eternity. However it is very possible that phyiscal humans will come to accept the eternally living AI emulators as real people. The question you have to ask you self is, would you instill all of your good qualities into a machine to carry on after you are gone? Would that make you feel more or less comfortable? Would you be comforted by a virtual version of your dead grand parents or terrified of them? I don’t know the answers, but these are are big questions that many of us will probably have to wrestle with in our lifetime. Better start thinking about it now.