Benjamin Franklin said: “If you would not be forgotten as soon as you are dead, either write something worth reading or do things worth writing.”
Or, just upload everything you’ve ever done and every bit of data associated you to the cloud. And those clouds aren’t fluffy with harp players sitting on them. Instead of Heaven, this afterlife is more akin to Hell since your final resting place will be cold, dark and subterranean.
We’ve seen digital immortality represented in science fiction many times. Some recent examples (mostly on Black Mirror) include:
a.) In the Battlestar Galactica spinoff Caprica1, one of the main characters is essentially replicated by her father using all of her social media activity. This digital avatar is a nearly perfect simulation of a dead person.
b.) In the Black Mirror episode The Entire History of You2, most people have digital recording devices installed into their brains – their eyes acting as camera lenses – that chronicle everything they ever do and see. This information can be stored, played back and even enhanced both internally and externally on TV screens. These chronological.
c.) In another Black Mirror episode, San Junipero3, people’s brains are uploaded into a virtual reality server where they get to live in any decade of time they want, long past the deaths of their physical bodies.
Questions abound about what to do with people’s data after they die. What else is there to be done with it?
We’re already tracking everything with Fitbits, social media profiles and every other app conceived. Digital giants like Google and Facebook have amassed every byte of information about us that they can.
Note that none of this actually grants the dead longer lifespans. It’s for the benefit of the living. One could argue more effort could be spent prolonging life – and not in the insane ways Silicon Valley moguls are attempting7.
But it’s pretty much inevitable that our cemeteries will eventually be upgraded to include digital components. Whether it’s a digital mosoleum, a very convicing AI chatbot trained on the personality of the departed or massive databanks full of hard drives containing the virtual souls of the death, a natural extention of the Information Age will be forms of immortality beyond what Ben Franklin pondered.