I don’t want to achieve immortality through my work… I want to achieve it through not dying.
– Woody Allen
I am going to live forever.
I am also, of course, kidding. (OR AM I?) But some part of me is, undoubtedly, going to live forever. The only hiccup with this is that I’ll be in no way associated with it.
There are two intertwining threads that lead to my inevitable immortality: 1) the amount of information and personality I’ve poured into the cloud via this blog, Facebook, Twitter, etc., etc., etc., and 2) rapidly accelerating progress in language processing and artificial intelligence. Even just a simple Markov text generator (thanks, CS106B!) can generate passable, if not convincing, text in the voice of a sample author. Now, extrapolate this is two dimensions: I’ll only continue to add information about myself in the form of writing to the web, and programmers—and thus algorithms—will only continue to be better and better than my simple class project.
The result? Predicted in William Gibson’s Neuromancer: by the time I’ve died, I’ll have essentially uploaded myself to the cloud. Insert your heaven metaphors here.
And not just me—anyone born in the last half century who has a non-negligible presence on the internet could be resurrected. The only St. Peter and the Pearly Gates of this afterlife (there, a metaphor) are a friend, relative, or private investigator who feels like having a bit of a posthumous chat with the ghost you left in the machine.
I’d like to say this post wasn’t inspired by Facebook’s recent Timeline update, but—alas—something about seeing my entire digital history vivisected and displayed got me thinking about what it might look like in ten, twenty, thirty years. (And if I’d ever be able to run for public office, but frankly in thirty years I don’t think I want to vote for anyone who doesn’t have some digital dirt on them.) There’s a record of my soul, if you want to call it that, online—the places I go, people I talk to, things I say. My wit, my inanity, my charm, my tiredness, my good side, my bad side are all there. In fifty years, it’ll just take a little clever stringing together of those lumps of clay to make a convincing Seth-golem, something that talks like me, something that acts like me, something that is deterministically programmed to emulate the free will and spontaneity of me.
Someone told me once that his idea of the afterlife—heaven, hell, or purgatory, depending—was to put everyone you’ve ever met into a theater and show the movie of your life, in real time, from birth to final breath. I propose a new afterlife, and with it a new metric for a life well lived:
When your avatar is raised by some computer necromancer in a séance of modem noises and flickering blue screens, what would it say?