Saturday 24 November 2012

We are closer to immortality than you think

The concept ofimmortality has been intriguing us as human beings for as far back astime recalls. Through religious belief and myths such as the fountainof youth, the idea of living forever is one that has found a home inmany hearts and minds.

Even in the world ofscience, a lot of research is being dedicated to unlocking the'immortality gene'. But while science struggles to unlock the key toimmortality, the digital world is a lot closer to perfecting its ownversion of the age old idea and is more confident of what it thinksthe end product will look like.

The idea being proposedis one of 'digital immortality'. The idea is to store a person'spersonality in a more durable media, such as a computer, and allowingit to communicate with people in the future. Basically, your brain isscanned and your entire essence is uploaded into a digital form ofbits and bytes.

This means you willthen have an avatar behaving, reacting and thinking like a person onthe basis of that person's digital archive. And even after thephysical death of the individual, the avatar could remain static orcontinue to learn and develop autonomously.

Regardless of yourstance on these sort of issues or whether or not you think thiscounts as immortality, you have to admit that the feat is quiteremarkable. It highlights a progress in our understanding ofourselves and is a pointer to what technologies of the future mightlook like.

The only issue I havewith digital immortality is that it could herald an age when humanbeings are harvested for their thoughts and made redundant by superandroids created from 'the best of us'. You also cannot ignore thepossibility of tweaked digital avatars and multiple copies ofsuper-upgraded clones and what impact that would have. Human beingswould be ironically left to die.

Whatever happens andhowever digital immortality works out in the future, what I believewill be equally exciting will be the discussion surrounding merits ofthis technology and whether or not it will enrich our lives in thesame way other technologies have. It is clearly a very excitingtechnology but will it empower us like the internet has or will itintroduce us to a new way of being unkind to one another?

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