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.
This post is in response to the question that was put to me by several people: why are you annoying us with your writing? The truthful and simplest answer is that I have always wanted to write. It is only now that I have breached the barrier of arrogance where I feel that I have something worthwhile to say. But that’s not really a fun answer, is it? So as I am fond of saying, allow me to illuminate the dark corners of your brain. I have oodles of great thoughts in my head but unless these are out in the open they might as well not exist. You may disagree with the first part of that sentence but you cannot find fault with the rest. Perception specifically other people’s perception of you is your reality whether you like it or not. If you think you are fabulous and the world around you just doesn’t see it, you need to work to align the world’s view with your own instead of moping about it. As a good friend of mine never tires of saying: if a peacock danced in the forest and nobody was there to witness it, did it really happen? This blog is part of my attempt to make the world see my world view as well as see me as I see myself (that was a real tongue twister but let’s assume that it was alliteration). Most human actions share multiple motives at least for those with more than one brain cell, however. As with everything else, my motives are a combination of the good, the bad and the ugly. The ugly bit is driven by pure self-aggrandizement and vanity. Through my writing I am performing my equivalent of the peacock dance i.e I am showing off and saying to the world — look at my bright feathers (or as Tom Haverford says in Parks and Recreation, I am peacocking). The good part is the sheer joy of writing and the cathartic/therapeutic nature of this creative outlet that I have been blessed enough to discover. It really is a godsend and could not have happened at a better time in my life.
The bad bit at least from your standpoint is that I suffer from delusions of grandeur (are there any other kind?). I think of myself as a philosopher and a dispenser of worldly wisdom. The word philosophy however induces heebie-jeebies in most people. It conjures visions of modern-day intellectuals sitting in their ivory towers dryly droning on and on about morality of human actions. They automatically assume a moral high ground from which they preach to the rest of us ignorant fools about our follies and foibles. Interestingly these people tend to have very rich and powerful friends and you never hear a judgement come out of their lips on their friends’ “indiscretions”. In essence their world view is warped and divorced from ground reality. I will give only one example (mostly because I am lazy to do more research on the topic): Bernard-Henri Lévy. He is a French public intellectual and recently was alarmed that the New York police manhandled his “friend” Dominique Strauss-Kahn, who you will all remember was accused of sexually assaulting a maid in a New York hotel room. More recently, BHL has expressed his dismay at Gaddafi’s “barbaric” execution. Such are the weighty matters on which the elite intellectuals choose to exercise their self-proclaimed intellect on. OK, so I rambled here a bit but the point I am trying to make is that there is a distinct lack of real life philosophy out there that can help a regular individual deal better with his/her life. I am hoping that I can address some of that gap. You may very well ask what the hell makes me so special? Well, nothing per se but I do have a keen interest in the subject matter. I am always looking at my own life as well as of those around me, assessing the results of various actions and choices made, to come up with a generic framework to guide me through life. I have struggled a lot in trying to discern my place in the world and to establish a sense of belonging. Many times I have felt completely unmoored and unhinged and it’s a rather terrible feeling to experience (I cannot resist making a geeky connection here with particles in Brownian motion). My personal struggles have given me a unique perspective which I hope others will be able to benefit from. And that is the real truth behind the genesis of this blog.
In case you thought that I am letting you off easy here is my first practical advice: cut yourself some slack and develop a sense of humor. This is of course only applicable to the individuals who insist on very strict standards for their own behavior and in turn use that as a self-righteous reason to control the behavior of others around them. Once you allow yourself wiggle room for error it is easier to do the same for other people (charity as they say begins at home). This has the advantage of stopping you from fixating on what everybody else is doing wrong and you can finally look at yourself and make positive changes. Similarly a sense of humor lets you bounce back from tough situations in life. Having a sense of humor does not mean making fun of everybody else, it is the ability to laugh at yourself and not looking at life in its apocalyptic seriousness. A lack of sense of humor will invariably lead you to miss out on small joys of life. And contrary to what you may have heard it really is not about grandiose accomplishments. Fulfilment of your life in the end hinges on your ability to appreciate the small things in life. Peace out.