Is digital immortality possible?   

Posted: 22/02/2018

‘Digital immortality’, a concept you may or may never have come across recently. Either, there is a lot of confusion over what digital immorality is and whether it could or will ever be able to become reality.

It is true that by basic human nature, past and present societies have always feared the concept of death. Basically, in one way or another, humanity has been chasing immortality and in failing that, some explanation of what happens when we die in terms of the ‘after-life’. In certain cultures, you are said to be able to attain immortality through performing good deeds, which will be spoken about long after you have died. Moreover, some faiths include the idea of immortality in their theology – whilst the body must die, the soul (for example) can live forever.

Of course, true immortality is not possible in this day and age. The price of a funeral is on the rise and if you want to freeze the price of today’s funeral, click here to find out more.

How could digital immortality become possible?

The thing is, what if science were to make it possible to be truly immortal? Could we live forever, in one way or another? This is the basic concept behind digital immortality. A notable futurist and inventor Ray Kurzweil believes that we are on our way to uncovering a way to extend the human lifespan indefinitely. Kurzweil predicts that in just over three decades, we will be able to upload our minds into a computer- therefore becoming digitally immortal. Another prediction he makes is that our biological body parts will become easily replaced with mechanical parts as early as the year 2100. He states that “we’re going to become increasingly non-biological … [where] the biological part is not important anymore.” He then goes on to add, “We do need a body, our intelligence is directed towards a body that is subject to all kinds of failure modes.”

Several potential paths have been identified which could lead to this supposed goal.

It is said that we may be able to identify the genes which ultimately govern the ageing process and manipulate them so that our bodies stop ageing at all once we have matured.

Perhaps there will be new techniques for creating artificial organs which will combine organic matter with technology. Then, replace our original parts with the new and improved versions.

Science-fiction or reality?

A prevalent theory is that we could back up our consciousness’s onto some sort of hard drive, just like Kurzweil’s theory. A popular Netflix show called Altered Carbon explores this concept. The series takes place just over 350 years into the future (2384) and at this time, it has become possible to decant a person’s memories into storage devices which can then be inserted into the vertebrae at the back of the neck of another body. Physical bodies are then referred to as vessels which are disposable once it has no use anymore.

Whilst, clearly, Altered Carbon is just a fictional television show and the other theories of digital immortality themselves appear like science-fiction movies themselves, people are dedicating plenty of research into working on how we may be able to live for longer or even forever at some point in the future. For example, scientists at Harvard have recently successfully altered the ageing genes which relates the ageing of mice. If it became possible to apply this knowledge and technology to humans, it may become a reality that we could prevent our bodies from ageing to some extent, and maybe one day we could the goal of immortality off the back off this research. If nothing else, this research could significantly increase the average lifespan of today’s world and we could be living far past the 100-year mark with much younger looking and feeling bodies than you’d expect someone over the age of 100 to look and feel.

Furthermore, there is a project called Blue Brain which aims to reverse engineer the human brain in order to create a virtual model which would allow neuroscientists to test techniques, procedures and treatments on a digital brain before perfecting them to use on an actual human brain. This project may just as well provide other insights into achieving digital immortality. Through this work, we can gain a better understanding of the human brain and how it works. It may even be possible to reverse engineer the process of thinking by creating a highly sophisticated virtual model of the brain.