■ Technological innovations could help us achieve immortality and preserve the future of the human race
THE idea of creating a ‘digital you’ that lives on after you die may sound like something straight out of Black Mirror but the wheels are already in motion — as are developments to ensure the future survival of our race should doomsday descend.
The Eternime app, for example, which is still in testing mode, uses social media posts to build a digital avatar your family and friends can interact with after you’re dead. So far, so creepy, right? The app features in a major new exhibition at London’s Victoria and Albert Museum called The Future Starts Here, where the digital afterlife is just one of the technological innovations that could — in theory — keep us living forever.
Upload your brain on to a computer file
Building on Stephen Hawking’s idea that mind transfer could be the key to immortality, the exhibition explores the idea of Whole Brain Emulation (WBE), where a human mind is effectively uploaded to a supercomputer and backed up like computer data, so our brains are kept intact for the future. Thanks to various biotech firms and start-ups like Nectome, research is already under way to preserve our brain and enable it to live on in digital form after we die.
Freeze your family and friends
Elsewhere, the exhibition covers the controversial field of cryonics and humanity’s bid for immortality, which focuses on not only preserving the physical brains of the deceased but also freezing people’s entire bodies in the somewhat optimistic hope they can be thawed out and brought back to life using not-yet-invented technology in the future.
Exhibition goers can see a medical alert bracelet given to people who sign up to Arizona’s Alcor Life Extension Foundation — the world’s largest cryonics storage facility — giving instructions for medical teams that include no embalming and no autopsy.
The Cryonics Institute’s macabre standby kit, also on display, contains a selection of tools such as an ice cooler, a stopwatch and a thermometer to help family or friends carry out the grisly task of preparing a body directly after death until it can be transferred for cryopreservation.
The vault that could save the planet
Of course, it’s not just about the bone-chilling preservation of individual humans but also keeping the planet alive to ensure the future of the human race. The Svalbard Global Seed Vault, nicknamed ‘the doomsday vault’, built in an abandoned Arctic coal mine in Norway, contains seeds from all over the world to protect them from natural and man-made disasters. Since opening in 2008, the vault has received more than a million different seed varieties and should ensure that even if a vital crop is wiped out, it can be restored.
Preserving the survival of the planet and, in turn, the human race is essential but preserving its cultural and intellectual legacy is equally important. That explains why University of Southampton researchers developed a ‘5D’ data crystal that can survive for billions of years, storing a whopping 360TB of data — the equivalent of around 7,000 Blu-ray discs.
Built to preserve important documents such as Magna Carta, some of the tiny glass discs have already been blasted into space aboard the same SpaceX rocket that launched a Tesla sports car back in February. Known as the Arch Library, the discs also carry books by the American author Isaac Asimov.
Whether it’s creating digital versions of our brains or keeping endangered species in storage, it’s widely believed that technological progress can and will help to keep the human race going. However, whether it’s going to save or destroy humanity remains to be seen.
The Future Starts Here runs until November 4 at the Victoria and Albert Museum. vam.ac.uk
Just because we can, doesn’t mean we should
WHILE many experts dismiss cryonics as unfeasible, some simply state that even if we could do it, we probably shouldn’t. Concerns have also been raised over the peddling of false hope to vulnerable people, as there’s still no evidence it will ever work as intended.
Likewise, even if it were possible to create a digital version of a person’s brain in the future, there are ethical questions as to whether this kind of software simulation should be regarded as a human.
An Oxford Internet Institute report suggests you should treat people’s digital remains as you would their physical counterparts. The report proposes mirroring the ethical guidelines used by museums in the way they treat physical human remains to ensure dignity in the digital afterlife.