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Digital immortality

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Digital immortality (or "virtual immortality")[1] is the hypothetical concept of storing (or cloning) a person's personality in digital substrate, i.e., a computer, robot or cyberspace[2] (mind uploading). The result might look like an avatar behaving, reacting, and thinking like a person on the basis of that person's digital archive.[3][4][5][6] After the death of the individual, this avatar could remain static or continue to learn and self-improve autonomously (possibly becoming seed AI).

A considerable portion of transhumanists and singularitarians place great hope into the belief that they may eventually become immortal[7] 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.[8][9]


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.[10]

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.[11]

The aim of Dmitry Itskov's 2045 Initiative is to "create technologies enabling the clone of an individual’s personality to a non-biological carrier, and extending existence, including to the point of immortality".[12]


Reaching digital immortality is a two-step process:

  1. archiving and digitizing people,[13]
  2. making the avatar live

Digital immortality has been argued to go beyond technical processes of digitization of people, and encompass social aspects as well. For example, Joshua Hurtado[14] has presented a four-step framework in which the digital immortalization of people could preserve the social bond between the living and the dead. These steps are: 1) data gathering, 2) data codification, 3) data activation, and 4) data embodiment. Each of these steps is linked to a form of preserving the social bond, either through talk, embodied emotionality (expressing emotions through one's form of embodiment) or monumentalism (creating a monument, in this case in digital form, to remember the dead).

Archiving and digitizing people[edit]

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).[15][16] 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.[4][17]

Richard Grandmorin[18] summarized the concept of digital immortality by the following equation: "semantic analysis + social internet use + Artificial Intelligence = immortality".

Some find that photos, videos, soundclips, social media posts and other data of oneself could already be regarded as such an archiving.[19][4][20][17]

Susanne Asche states:

As a hopefully minimalistic definition then, digital immortality can be roughly considered as involving a person-centric repository containing a copy of everything that a person sees, hears, says, or engenders over his or her lifespan, including photographs, videos, audio recordings, movies, television shows, music albums/CDs, newspapers, documents, diaries and journals, interviews, meetings, love letters, notes, papers, art pieces, and so on, and so on; and if not everything, then at least as much as the person has and takes the time and trouble to include. The person’s personality, emotion profiles, thoughts, beliefs, and appearance are also captured and integrated into an artificially intelligent, interactive, con-versational agent/avatar. This avatar is placed in charge of (and perhaps "equated" with) the collected material in the repository so that the agent can present the illusion of having the factual memories, thoughts, and beliefs of the person him/herself.

— Susanne Asche, Kulturelles Gedächtnis im 21. Jahrhundert: Tagungsband des internationalen Symposiums, Digital Immortality & Runaway Technology[21]

Making the avatar alive[edit]

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.[citation needed] 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 person's "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.[4][17]

Calibration process[edit]

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.[4][17]


According to Boston University's Magazine,[22] the advancement of Artificial Intelligence (AI) is ushering humanity into a realm where the boundary between the living and the deceased is becoming increasingly blurred.[22] James Trew’s[23] article talks about generative technology like ChatGPT and Midjourney. James Trew’s article,[23] Digital 'immortality' is coming and we're not ready for it, provides information about the misfortune of sorting through the possessions of a dead relative and using it for other circumstances.[24][25]

However, with these advancements come a myriad of ethical and legal dilemmas, particularly concerning digital remains and postmortem privacy. [23][26]

Mourning and Digital Remains[edit]

Martine Rothblatt[25] wrote a book about the ethics in digital immortality and made a point about how one of the central questions raised by digital immortality is the nature of identity and authenticity in a digital form. Rothblatt delves into the concept of continuity of consciousness and whether a digital replica of a person can truly capture their essence or if it is merely a simulation.

Like Melody Parker[27] says in their article, to communicate with someone on the other side of the veil, you don't need a Ouija board or séance. Artificial intelligence may transform the way we grieve as like the author some[27] view it as a source of solace, others argue it may hinder the natural progression of grief like Rothblatt.[25][24]

Postmortem Privacy and Digital Immortality[edit]

As AI-enabled replicas interact with the world, concerns emerge about the privacy and autonomy of the deceased.[28] According to Vinícius Ferreira Galvão,[24] their article, Discussing human values in digital immortality: towards a value-oriented perspective, they had stated questions to how ethical issues are regarded after the death of an individual. Questions like “Who owns the data related to the deceased if he/she has not delegated an heir? If a perfect digital copy of the deceased is possible, should it be treated similarly as any human being?” arise.[28][25]

Fiorenza Gamba,[29] the author of “AI, mourning and digital immortality. Some ethical questions on digital remain and post-mortem privacy” made claims about the post mortem privacy against digital immortality. The article makes a claim stating that “Holograms, digital twins and chatbots are increasingly used to reproduce the likenesses, behaviours and emotions of the deceased. Moreover, such technologies enable these replicas to interact with the survivors.”[29][24]

Legal Implications and Immortality[edit]

According to Bell and Gray’s article,[30] “Digital Immortality.” Communications of the ACM, digital immortality manifests in various forms, from one-way immortality where data is preserved for future generations to two-way immortality where individuals can communicate with artificial versions of the deceased. [15][25]

In fiction[edit]

  • In 1967 the short story "I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream" written by Harlan Ellison chronicles the digitally immortal life of protagonists living within a hellscape reality.
  • 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.[31][32]
  • In Greg Egan's Permutation City people can achieve quasi digital immortality by mind uploading a digital copy of themselves into a simulated reality.[19][33]
  • 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 cloned to another body or kept in electronic storage, granting a limited form of immortality.[34]
  • In the TV series Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future, Overmind and Lord Dread planned to digitize all human beings to be able to create a new world.
  • In the TV series Black Mirror it commonly features the themes and ethics of digital humans, called "cookies," across multiple episodes. In San Junipero, for example, people's consciences are uploaded to the cloud.
  • In the novel / Netflix series Altered Carbon, a person's memories and consciousness can be stored in a disk-shaped device called a cortical stack, which is implanted into the cervical vertebrae.
  • In Frictional Games' SOMA, the story revolves around the problem of existing as a digital personality scan taken from a physical person.
  • In The Physics of Immortality: Modern Cosmology, God and the Resurrection of the Dead by Frank Tipler.
  • In the 2014 film Transcendence, Will's (Johnny Depp) consciousness is uploaded into the quantum computer project he developed
  • In the 2015 film Chappie, a robot and a flash drive are used for consciousness cloning.
  • 'This', episode 2 of series 11 of The X-Files, concerns the uploading of Richard Langly's consciousness into a virtual Tartarus; where people are exploited as 'digital slaves'.
  • The 2020 aired TV series Upload features a narrative of the protagonist having their entire consciousness uploaded to a digital world after death.
  • The 2020 video game Cyberpunk 2077 alludes to this philosophy by the protagonist becoming infected with the digitised consciousness of Johnny Silverhand, later using the same technology to overwrite Johnny or choose to allow Johnny to retain said body.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Farnell, Ross (2000). "Attempting Immortality: AI, A-Life, and the Posthuman in Greg Egan's "Permutation City"". Science Fiction Studies. 27 (1): 69–91. JSTOR 4240849.
  2. ^ Graziano, Michael S. A. (2019). Rethinking consciousness : a scientific theory of subjective experience (1 ed.). New York, NY. ISBN 978-0-393-65261-1. OCLC 1084330876.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link)
  3. ^ Parkin, Simon (23 January 2015). "Back-up brains: The era of digital immortality". BBC. Retrieved 7 June 2015.
  4. ^ a b c d e Rothblatt, Martine (2014). Virtually Human: The Promiseand the Perilof Digital Immortality. St. Martin's Publishing. ISBN 978-1491532911.
  5. ^ Sofka, Carla (February 2012). Dying, Death, and Grief in an Online Universe: For Counselors and Educators. Springer. ISBN 978-0826107329.
  6. ^ DeGroot, Doug (5 November 2003). "VideoDIMs as a framework for Digital Immortality Applications". Intelligent Virtual Agents: 4th International Workshop, IVA 2003, Kloster Irsee, Germany, September 15-17, 2003, Proceedings (Lecture Notes in ... / Lecture Notes in Artificial Intelligence). Springer. ISBN 978-3540200031. Retrieved 7 June 2015.
  7. ^ Cohan, Peter (20 June 2013). "Google's Engineering Director: 32 Years To Digital Immortality". Forbes. Retrieved 7 June 2015.
  8. ^ Lewis, Tanya (17 June 2013). "The Singularity Is Near: Mind Uploading by 2045?". livescience.com. Retrieved 7 June 2015.
  9. ^ Strickland, Jonathan (12 April 2011). "How Digital Immortality Works". howstuffworks.com. Retrieved 7 June 2015.
  10. ^ US Government funds virtual reality research, bioethics.com, 14 June 2007
  11. ^ "What is Digital Immortality?". Digital-immortality.org. Archived from the original on 2013-06-05. Retrieved 2012-03-20.
  12. ^ Eördögh, Fruzsina (7 May 2013). "Russian Billionaire Dmitry Itskov Plans on Becoming Immortal by 2045". Archived from the original on 24 May 2015. Retrieved 7 June 2015.
  13. ^ "Ghost In The Machine: Living Forever As A Digital Avatar". HuffPost India. 2016-04-18. Retrieved 2019-03-09.
  14. ^ Hurtado, Joshua Hurtado (2021-01-25). "Towards a postmortal society of virtualised ancestors? The Virtual Deceased Person and the preservation of the social bond". Mortality. 28: 90–105. doi:10.1080/13576275.2021.1878349. hdl:10138/353467. ISSN 1357-6275.
  15. ^ a b Digital Immortality, by Gordon Bell and Jim Gray, Microsoft Research
  16. ^ Bainbridge, William Sims (November 2013). Personality Capture and Emulation. Springer. ISBN 978-1-4471-5604-8.
  17. ^ a b c d Desat, Marla (23 September 2014). "Would You Clone Your Mind to Live Forever? Virtually Human". The Escapist. Archived from the original on 9 June 2015. Retrieved 7 June 2015.
  18. ^ "soon immortal (@soon_immortal) op Twitter". Twitter.com. Retrieved 2012-03-20.
  19. ^ a b Böhle, Knud; Berendes, Jochen; Gutmann, Mathias; Trotha, Caroline Robertson-von; Scherz, Constanze (2014). Computertechnik und Sterbekultur. LIT Verlag Münster. ISBN 978-3-643-11071-8. Retrieved 7 June 2015.
  20. ^ McQuade, Zan (16 May 2015). "What happens to us on the internet when we die?". The Week. Retrieved 7 June 2015.
  21. ^ Asche, Susanne (23 April 2005). Kulturelles Gedächtnis im 21. Jahrhundert: Tagungsband des internationalen Symposiums. KIT Scientific Publishing. Retrieved 7 June 2015.
  22. ^ a b "The Line Between Biology and Technology Has Blurred—There's No Going Back". Boston University. Retrieved 2024-04-17.
  23. ^ a b c "Digital 'immortality' is coming and we're not ready for it". Engadget. 2023-07-19. Retrieved 2024-04-17.
  24. ^ a b c d Galvão, Vinícius Ferreira; Maciel, Cristiano; Pereira, Roberto; Gasparini, Isabela; Viterbo, José; Bicharra Garcia, Ana Cristina (2021-11-26). "Discussing human values in digital immortality: towards a value-oriented perspective". Journal of the Brazilian Computer Society. 27 (1). doi:10.1186/s13173-021-00121-x. ISSN 0104-6500.
  25. ^ a b c d e "Martine Rothblatt and the Virtually Human". Internet Afterlife: 87–106. 2016. doi:10.5040/9798400671654.ch-006. ISBN 979-8-4006-7165-4.
  26. ^ TechiWiki (2023-08-10). "How AI Will Unlock the Secret of Immortality: The Concept and Benefits of Digital Immortality". 𝐀𝐈 𝐦𝐨𝐧𝐤𝐬.𝐢𝐨. Retrieved 2024-04-17.
  27. ^ a b Parker, Melody (2024-03-18). "Digital immortality: AI grief tech raises grief, ethical issues with local experts". Courier. Retrieved 2024-04-17.
  28. ^ a b "The Creepy New Digital Afterlife Industry - IEEE Spectrum". spectrum.ieee.org. Retrieved 2024-04-17.
  29. ^ a b Gamba, Fiorenza (2022-10-11). "AI, mourning and digital immortality. Some ethical questions on digital remain and post-mortem privacy". Études sur la mort. n° 157 (1): 13–25. doi:10.3917/eslm.157.0013. ISSN 1286-5702. {{cite journal}}: |volume= has extra text (help)
  30. ^ Bell, Gordon; Gray, Jim (March 2001). "Digital immortality". Communications of the ACM. 44 (3): 28–31. doi:10.1145/365181.365182. ISSN 0001-0782.
  31. ^ MacIver, Malcolm (5 October 2010). "Caprica Puzzle: If a Digital You Lives Forever, Are You Immortal?". discovermagazine.com. Archived from the original on 25 May 2015. Retrieved 7 June 2015.
  32. ^ Geddes, Linda (7 June 2010). "Immortal avatars: Back up your brain, never die". New Scientist. Retrieved 7 June 2015.
  33. ^ Pickover, Clifford A. (27 December 2006). A Beginner's Guide to Immortality: Extraordinary People, Alien Brains, and Quantum Resurrection. Basic Books. ISBN 978-1560259848.
  34. ^ "Vast Review". SF Site. Retrieved 17 January 2016.