I draw your attention not to the fluffy white clouds where angels sing but to the data storage cloud where companies like Google and Facebook store the information they “collect” on us. All our actions on the internet are essentially a bits and pieces record of our personality. What we search for, read, watch, like, dislike on the internet can provide a window into our soul. In a day not so far off in future, it will be possible to “construct” a virtual you just from the fingerprints you leave behind on the internet. It may sound far-fetched to some of you and I can see the skeptics shaking their heads in violent disagreement. But it is already beginning to happen. The signs of what is to come are plain for all to see. On your Gmail and Facebook you already see online ads that are targeted to your own individual quirks.
I got started on this train of thought after reading this news item from last week, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-16801154. It talks about the legal challenges to living online after your death. Question asked here is whether you can assign a legal representative who will have access to your online persona after your death. Aside from the legalities, there are some very serious philosophical and religious implications. To get started let us assume that one day advances in computer algorithms will make it possible to build a virtual avatar of any individual from the information (data) on that individual present in the cloud in the hyper connected future (this is exactly the kind of future that makes some of us want to live off the grid). This “software” avatar will behave exactly like us sans the flesh and blood. The word avatar comes from Hinduism by the way and means incarnation or manifestation. It is interesting that even in technology we stick to such mystical/religious terminology.
This is not a coincidence in my opinion. Religion and science both offer us hope of immortality after their own fashion. In the world full of relative truths death is the only absolute. Since the beginning of times we have strived to wrap our brains around it. Religion says that there is something else to come for us after death and it is not the end. Science on the other hand has focussed on means to postpone death (physical destruction of our body) for as long as possible. But it appears now that technology, the child of science, is beginning to align itself more and more with religion (witness the hordes of iPhone devotees at the temple of Apple for example). Science is primarily concerned with inquiry and thought whereas both technology and religion aspire to make us feel better. Inquiry and thought never makes one feel better!!
So this is how it will come to pass. Through the wonders of technology, we will have a copy of our soul in the cloud in the form of our software avatar. It will not be subject to the mortality of the physical world and go on living long after the original copy is destroyed along with our physical selves. Our flesh and blood loved ones that we leave behind could still interact with the virtual us. The software avatar/soul will be “aware” and continue to “grow” through these interactions. Your soul/personality could also be plugged into a physical body and voila the world of Caprica and Battlestar Gallactica will become a reality. If this sounds like the stuff of your nightmares, log off Facebook and go outside. It is rather sunny for February.
Note: The featured image is from www.angelsghosts.com.