Connect with us:
February 4, 2024
HomeDigital FutureImmortalityFrom Data to Digital Immortality: A Deep Dive into the World of Digital Afterlife Technologies

From Data to Digital Immortality: A Deep Dive into the World of Digital Afterlife Technologies

AI pop music

The inquiry into life after death has captivated humanity since the earliest days of civilization. Throughout history, individuals have grappled with the existential dread of mortality through various means, such as religious beliefs, burial customs, spiritual movements, artistic expressions, and advancements in technology. In the present day, technological efforts have given rise to the emergence of “digital afterlife” companies, which aim to reconstruct the essence of deceased individuals based on the digital footprint they have left behind.

Numerous enterprises offer a range of digital afterlife products and services, with prominent players like HereAfter AI, Soul Machine, UneeQ  , Google, and Microsoft taking the forefront. For instance, Soul Machines specializes in crafting “digital twins,” while UneeQ  develops “digital humans”, all in an attempt to replicate human interaction on an extensive scale. Google employs patented digital afterlife technology to clone the “mental attributes” of a person, while Microsoft holds a patent for creating conversational chatbots based on an individual’s “social data.”

Microsoft’s conversational chatbot concept involves training a program—defined as “a conversational computer program simulating human conversation using textual and/or auditory input channels”—utilizing social data encompassing “images, voice data, social media posts, electronic messages,” and various other forms of information. The ultimate goal is for the chatbot to engage in conversation in a manner reflective of the original person, complete with a corresponding voice, and possibly accompanied by 2D or 3D images.

Nearly everyone engaging with modern technology is susceptible to “datafication,” which involves the recording, analysis, and storage of our day-to-day activities as digital data. The consequences, whether intentional or unintended, of our data usage while alive have far-reaching implications for each individual after death.

As humans, the inevitability of our mortality confronts us all. The pervasive datafication of our existence means that we must now grapple with the realization that information about us is likely to outlast our physical presence. The discourse surrounding the digital afterlife prompts several crucial and interconnected questions. 

Firstly, do we have the right to shape the narrative of our digital existence after death? The choice to abstain from a digital afterlife should rest with us. However, the feasibility of enforcing this decision is uncertain, given the persistent and widespread nature of data. Is deletion, a proposed solution by some, even achievable? The nature of data implies its enduring quality, a stark contrast to our finite existence.

Afterlife in the Digital Realm

Many individuals neglect the essential measures required to manage their digital legacies. What fate awaits our emails, text messages, and social media photos once we pass away? Who holds the rights to these digital remnants, and is there specific information we wish to preserve for our loved ones?

Some may prefer their digital footprint to cease along with their physical departure. Those who are well-organized and prepared might furnish their families with passwords and usernames, enabling them to locate and delete their digital presence posthumously. However, this meticulous planning may seem inconsequential, considering the deceased won’t experience any digital versions of themselves created after death. Nonetheless, for some, the notion of someone resurrecting them digitally might feel ethically uncomfortable.

For those embracing technological possibilities, a multitude of apps allows us to contribute during our lifetimes, ensuring our “datafied” selves persist beyond death. These offerings, ranging from slightly eerie to innocuous, blur the lines between life and death.

Our digital profiles, or datafied selves, become a conduit for existence beyond death, potentially enabling social interactions that extend beyond our physical lifetimes. Consequently, the dynamics of the human community are evolving, allowing the deceased to be more present in the lives of the living than ever before. The impact on our autonomy and dignity has yet to be comprehensively considered in the realm of human rights, traditionally focused on physical life, now extending into the digital realm thanks to datafication and artificial intelligence, ensuring that our digital selves do not truly “die.”

Risks Associated with Creating Digital Immortals

The potential development of bots modeled after specific individuals carries significant implications for autonomy, consent, and privacy. Failing to establish standards that empower the original data creators with the right to grant or deny permission strips them of their choice.

Should technologies like the Microsoft chatbot patent be implemented, it poses challenges to human dignity. While the concept of someone “resurrecting us” might seem acceptable when viewing data as mere “by-products” of individuals, if data represents more than remnants but encapsulates our identities, caution is warranted before permitting the digital replication of people.

The desire for digital immortality often stems from a wish to allow future generations to interact with our virtual selves. Achieving perpetual preservation requires trust in data collectors and service providers to safeguard and faithfully represent our data. However, envisioning scenarios where malicious actors manipulate data to alter outcomes poses a risk of our digital immortal selves significantly deviating from our authentic identities. The absence of a human rights language to address such transgressions complicates matters, and the uncertainty about whether a digital person qualifies as “human” raises questions about extending protections against ill treatment, torture, and degradation.

Technical challenges in the digital afterlife include the dynamic nature of algorithms and computing protocols, with potential changes rendering certain data illegible. Anticipating all possible alterations when granting consent becomes challenging in the ever-evolving digital landscape.

In the digital era, our data persists independently of our awareness and mortality, thanks to datafication. Without establishing human rights protections to prevent unauthorized uses of our posthumous selves, we risk becoming digital immortals crafted by others.

No comments

leave a comment