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 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 more advanced non-biological carrier, and extending life, 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.
Richard Grandmorin summarized the concept of digital immortality by the following equation: "semantic analysis + social internet use + Artificial Intelligence = immortality".
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
Making the avatar alive
Making the avatar live allows it to communicate with the future in the sense that it continues to learn, evolve and interact with people. Technically, the operation exists to implement an artificial intelligence system to the avatar. This artificial intelligence system will think and 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.
- Parkin, Simon (23 January 2015). "Back-up brains: The era of digital immortality". BBC. Retrieved 7 June 2015.
- Rothblatt, Martine (2014). Virtually Human: The Promiseand the Perilof Digital Immortality. ISBN 978-1491532911.
- Sofka, Carla (February 2012). Dying, Death, and Grief in an Online Universe: For Counselors and Educators. ISBN 978-0826107329.
- 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). ISBN 978-3540200031. Retrieved 7 June 2015.
- Cohan, Peter (20 June 2013). "Google's Engineering Director: 32 Years To Digital Immortality". Retrieved 7 June 2015.
- Lewis, Tanya (17 June 2013). "The Singularity Is Near: Mind Uploading by 2045?". livescience.com. Retrieved 7 June 2015.
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- US Government funds virtual reality research, bioethics.com, 14 June 2007
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- Eördögh, Fruzsina (7 May 2013). "Russian Billionaire Dmitry Itskov Plans on Becoming Immortal by 2045". Retrieved 7 June 2015.
- Digital Immortality, by Gordon Bell and Jim Gray, Microsoft Research
- Bainbridge, William Sims (November 2013). Personality Capture and Emulation. ISBN 978-1-4471-5604-8.
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- McQuade, Zan (16 May 2015). "What happens to us on the internet when we die?". The Week. Retrieved 7 June 2015.
- Asche, Susanne (23 April 2005). Kulturelles Gedächtnis im 21. Jahrhundert: Tagungsband des internationalen Symposiums. KIT Scientific Publishing. Retrieved 7 June 2015.
- MacIver, Malcolm (5 October 2010). "Caprica Puzzle: If a Digital You Lives Forever, Are You Immortal?". discovermagazine.com. Retrieved 7 June 2015.
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- Pickover, Clifford A. A Beginner's Guide to Immortality: Extraordinary People, Alien Brains, and Quantum Resurrection. ISBN 978-1560259848.