Why death may not be so final in the future
Within a couple of decades, visiting deceased friends and relatives by traveling to a grassy gravesite may seem as quaint as popping a videotape into your VHS player. By then, our whole experience of death may be drastically different.
With the changes in how we handle the departed come changes in how we remember them.
“Do you have a QR code reader on your phone?” she asks. “A century from now, will anyone even have any idea what that is?”
That’s a key issue for death in the digital age: Software goes out of date quickly, but memorials are meant to last forever. Today even keeping track of who is here and who is gone is a challenge. At some point you’ve probably had the unnerving experience of receiving a Facebook reminder to celebrate a birthday of a friend who is no longer alive.
Entrepreneurs are rushing in to solve this problem of “digital death curation.”
If the concept sounds creepy, it may be that you haven’t adapted yet to the fast-changing culture. “I think it's all positive,” Rosenbloom says. “I don’t want to take up permanent real estate in a cemetery, but I do want to be remembered. Physical, virtual: the more the merrier.”
Taking the idea a step further, computer scientist Hossein Rahnama of the MIT Media Lab is developing what he calls “augmented eternity.” It would mine all the information about a dead person to create a detailed virtual presence. His nominal goal is to simulate famous historical figures as an educational tool, but the same approach could be applied to any person.
“We can create bodies with nanotechnology, we can create virtual bodies in virtual reality,” Kurzweil says. “I think we’ll have a choice of bodies; we’ll certainly be routinely changing our parent body in virtual reality.”
Many scoff at Kurzweil’s vision, questioning not only its technological feasibility but also its philosophical desirability. Fantasizing about immortality keeps people from living their best lives right now, Rosenbloom argues. “It feeds into death denial. When there's no longer a deadline on your life, it takes away a lot of the motivations that we have in our life.”
Like it or not, some forms of digital afterlife are here already, and more elaborate ones are on the way. Just as today’s kids have never laid hands on a VHS cassette, so they may soon find it strange that anyone ever traveled to a distant graveyard rather than activating a virtual memorial experience they can call up anywhere, anytime.
November 20, 2017
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