We’ve tried it all. The mediums, the necromancers, the seances and the Ouija boards. There are also the mummies, the cyborgs, the cryonized, the genetically engineered and the biohackers. And yet, no matter how creative humans have tried being, we’re no closer to cheating the grim reaper than we were when we thought that drinking mercury was the key to everlasting life.
Mankind has been chasing immortality for millennia. All the bizarre iterations aside, it’s fair to say that something lurking in the depths of our nature wants to desperately transcend biological limitations - and ultimately transcend death itself. More than just biological, immortality seems to be the ultimate human spiritual need. Vanity or not, we are also wired to want to be remembered forever by leaving behind a legacy that can outlive us and be shared with future generations.
And while the formula for the ‘Elixir of Life’ is yet to be found, we are now edging closer to a transdimensional plane of existence that partially solves this age-old problem. Maybe the issue all along was less about preventing biological death but finding new ways to extend our current existence. That’s exactly where digital technologies play their part.
Plant a tree, have a child, write a book — become a virtual human?
Let’s face it – nobody likes to think about death. Sure, some actually do, but it’s still hard to come to terms with if not our own finity, then that of those we love. When they’re gone far too early, we find ourselves regretting not having enjoyed more time with them.
Our finite life spurs us on to seize the day, live in the moment, take risks and to try and be content with what we have. For many, it’s not about contemplating the afterlife but having the option of getting life-extensions that guarantee us 15, 20 more years of longevity.
We are trying to slow down aging, control our lifespan through meditation, injections, vitamins, supplements – and a lot of celery juice, apparently. Some people have gone as far as to resort to cryogenic freezing after death, hoping that science will have advanced enough to resurrect them one day. If you’re not so keen on freezing your whole body, you might then consider preserving just your brain until the day it can be digitized and downloaded to a computer. Does this all sound straight out of a bad science sci-fi novella? Maybe, but not for Elon Musk. But in the end, be that biotechnology, gene therapy, or 3D organ printing, all of this technology is simply far too costly.
A better, cheaper, and more practical route to immortality might then lie in the digital world. If you think about it, what will happen to your digital footprint when you die? Will the thousands of photos, stories, memories, ideas and thoughts be lost forever? A post-human virtual version of ourselves, could live on and interact with our loved ones well after we are gone. While it would not be quite the same as living 100 years or trying to cheat ageism, some believe this could be the answer to humanity’s quest for immortality. We can simply replace our bodies with a digital clone.
The biggest question is whether it is even possible for a human to be digitized in the first place. In any case, bringing the dead back to life isn’t exactly new technology. Queue for the Death Tech industry.
There are several startups already allowing users to create, during their lifetime, virtual profiles based on their digital trail (emails, chats, photos and social networks posts). From this collection, an “intelligent avatar” - a real-time rendering of people that can mimic opinions, values and personality traits is born and is able to interact with humans in the form of an AI-powered chatbot.
Wait, did someone say something about digital copies of dead people? Then Microsoft and Google are also very much interested. Reaching for a pseudo tech reincarnation of their own, both tech giants have successfully filed for patents that would allow them to digitally resuscitate the dead by harvesting their social data. Much like the living, the dead might not be getting much privacy after all.
And yes, this all might evoke some uncanny valley feelings and even justify a fear that we’ll end up with creepy digital clones with lives (and minds) of their own on the web. But for many, humanity without a ‘best before’ label is not only a goal worth pursuing but something within grasp.
Death is optional
Kim Kardashian broke the internet (again) when she revealed she had been given a hologram of her late father in celebration of her 40th birthday. No doubt a well-intended and sweet gift by her then husband Kanye West, and yet the internet went into absolute meltdown with gasps in horror filling every social media network, online forum and media outlet.
As much as it has since become another bizarre piece of pop culture, it also showcased a desire for a form of transhumanism where unchained by physical constraints anyone can be remembered and celebrated forever, as if they were alive.
In the old days, we used to talk to photos of our loved ones or go to a cemetery. But with so much of our lives now being spent online, digital tombstones are fast becoming a more practical way for us to grieve. Both Instagram and Facebook have ‘memorialize’ features, no doubt spurred by estimates showing dead users outnumbering the living before the end of the century
But technology has advanced to where our disorganized digital remains can bring our informational corpses back to life and create immortal bits-and-bytes clones that can increasingly understand language, cultural nuances and create a faint illusion of human intelligence with the help of artificial intelligence.
These post-death avatars are the result of merging biology and technology – a new life form that completely replaces physical reality with a purely digital one that can interact digitally with the living.
Once digital, there probably would be no going back.
Ever since the mid-1960s, chatbots have been fooling people into thinking they're human. And as we’ve seen, chatbots based on a real person’s digital archive can somewhat convincingly think and interact with other human beings. With the mind no longer having to be embedded in biology, virtual selves can live in a parallel universe to that of the biological creators and continue their trajectory in ‘virtenity’ after someone’s death.
Augmented reality and virtual reality are further opening doors to some incredible things – and fundamentally changing our relationship with death. Take the example of a grief-stricken Korean mom who was able to be reunited with her deceased daughter through a VR simulation, using a digital avatar created from memories. The technology was touted as a “new way to keep loved ones in memory” and an opportunity for intergenerational experiences not possible until now.
However, being virtually human doesn’t mean we will have a perfect replica of every nuance of the human mind and that isn’t the promise of AI, AR or VR either. It’s about replicating human functions, in the same way a plane is not a bird but a replication of its ability to fly.
Creating your virtual immortal persona
As we’ve seen, the traditional concept of digital immortality is centered on the idea that, through technology, a person’s identity can be preserved in a digital media format that can then interact with other copies and ‘live’ in virtual worlds. Such alternate virtual environments or metaverses — like Sensorium Galaxy — could present a perfect environment for immortal virtual beings to prosper in.
However, as it stands, most metaverses are structured so that virtual personalities can only exist with direct control and input from a primary user. Yet, we are moving closer to a compromise; instead of creating perfect copies in the form of digital doppelgangers, Sensorium Galaxy provides sophisticated artificial intelligence tools that allow users to create avatars that can develop distinctive virtual personalities, loosely based on user-specific preferences and traits.
As such, these virtual personas can be created and perfectly integrated into Sensorium’s digital environment, where they will develop unique characteristics and abilities. This can be achieved through:
- Appearance of the avatar, including endless customization
- Consciousness (or digital soul), focusing on intellect and character
- System of development and adaptation
- Autonomy - independent life in the virtual/digital environment of Sensorium
Today is the day Sensorium Galaxy presents you its avatars. They are the first virtual artists, developed with the help of artificial intelligence. Each artist is an autonomous individual with its charisma and history.— Sensorium Galaxy (@SensoriumGalaxy) April 22, 2021
Soon you'll get a chance to know them better. pic.twitter.com/kgNBvZA2XE
Within Sensorium Galaxy, users are not limited to pre-set avatars and are fully able to personalize their appearances, set character traits, and incorporate other vital elements into their profiles. Further on, these users can evolve in the digital environment managing their characters and simulating various scenarios of events in virtual worlds. By being given a digital passport, users can also control their progress and history, as well as additional activities such as:
- Payments (in-game wallet, SENSO tokens)
- Digital asset ownership
- Non-fungible tokens
- Access to virtual spaces and events
- Tickets or memberships
Sensorium Galaxy’s avatars have a consciousness which is akin to the soul of a virtual person or an intellectual core. This can be formed based on a character questionnaire filled by the user as well as through the use of artificial neural networks that enhance the self-development and content creation of non-player characters (NPCs), fully controlled by artificial intelligence.
In this virtual ecosystem, users can achieve digital immortality and in doing so, can choose how that will take shape.
The end of death?
In the quest for immortality, so much hope has been pinned on science that it has become almost a prerequisite for believing an afterlife can ever be achieved. But it’s technology that is now bringing that closer than ever to the present, with digital immortality being the logical life-enhancing, life-extending opportunity in an era of rapid technological shift.
As we stand on the cusp of seeing biology and cybernetics merging, we can see digital duplicates of humans capable of self-awareness and self-actualization to perpetuate a digital legacy for future generations to interact with.
By freeing mankind from the constraints of aging, the threat of deadly diseases and the terrifying ghost of life-ending events, digital immortality is a new step in human evolution and the one bringing us closer to our fullest potential.