Digital immortality (or "virtual immortality") is the hypothetical concept of storing (or transferring) a person's personality in more durable media, i.e., a computer, and allowing it to communicate with people in the future. The result might look like an avatar behaving, reacting, and thinking like a person on the basis of that person's digital archive. After the death of the individual, this avatar could remain static or continue to learn and develop autonomously.
A considerable portion of transhumanists and singularitarians place great hope into the belief that they may become immortal by the year 2045, by creating one or many non-biological functional copies of their brains, thereby leaving their "biological shell". These copies may then "live eternally" in a version of digital "heaven" or paradise.
The realism of the concept
The futurist Ian Pearson believes that humans will achieve a kind of virtual immortality by saving into computers by the year 2050.
The National Science Foundation has awarded a half-million-dollar grant to the universities of Central Florida at Orlando and Illinois at Chicago to explore how researchers might use artificial intelligence, archiving, and computer imaging to create convincing, digital versions of real people, a possible first step toward virtual immortality.
The Digital Immortality Institute explores three factors necessary for digital immortality. First, at whatever level of implementation, avatars require guaranteed Internet accessibility. Next, avatars must be what users specify, and they must remain so. Finally, future representations must be secured before the living users are no more.
The aim of Dmitry Itskov's 2045 Initiative is to "create technologies enabling the transfer of an individual’s personality to a non-biological carrier, and extending existence, including to the point of immortality".
Reaching digital immortality is a two-step process:
- archiving and digitizing people,
- making the avatar live
Archiving and digitizing people
According to Gordon Bell and Jim Gray from Microsoft Research, retaining every conversation that a person has ever heard is already realistic: it needs less than a terabyte of storage (for adequate quality). The speech or text recognition technologies are one of the biggest challenges of the concept.
A second possibility would be to archive and analyze social Internet use to map the personality of people. By analyzing social Internet use during 50 years, it would be possible to model a society's culture, a society's way of thinking, and a society's interests.
Rothblatt envisions the creation of "mindfiles" – collections of data from all kinds of sources, including the photos we upload to Facebook, the discussions and opinions we share on forums or blogs, and other social media interactions that reflect our life experiences and our unique self.
Susanne Asche states:
Making the avatar alive
Defining the avatar to be alive allows it to communicate with the future in the sense that it continues to learn, evolve and interact with people, if they still exist. Technically, the operation exists to implement an artificial intelligence system to the avatar. This artificial intelligence system is then assumed to think and will react on the base of the archive.
Rothblatt proposes the term "mindware" for software that is being developed with the goal of generating conscious AIs. Such software would read a persons' "mindfile" to generate a "mindclone". Rothblatt also proposes a certain level of governmental approval for mindware, like an FDA certification, to ensure that the resulting mindclones are well made.
During the calibration process, the biological people are living at the same time as their artifact in silicon. The artifact in silicon is calibrated to be as close as possible to the person in question. During this process ongoing updates, synchronization, and interaction between the two minds would maintain the twin minds as one.
- In the TV series Caprica a digital copy of a person is created and outlives its real counterpart after the person dies in a terrorist attack.
- In Greg Egan's Permutation city people can achieve quasi digital immortality by mind uploading a digital copy of themselves into a simulated reality.
- Memories with Maya is a novel on the concept of digital immortality.
- The Silicon Man describes Cryonics as a precursor to digital immortality.
- In the 1998 novel Vast by Linda Nagata "ghosts" are recorded memories and personalities that can be transferred to another body or kept in electronic storage, granting a limited form of immortality.
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