Friday, February 18, 2005

Immortality Through Google

"'The vanity of death memorials parallels in some ways the use of the internet as a vanity mirror, as shown by the practice of Googling your own name, or accumulating links to your website,' said Sullivan. 'And a lot of geeky interests, like robots, artificial intelligence, and DNA replication or cloning all speak to the urge for immortality that drives so much of technology.'

"Sullivan said he wanted to create an urn that was visually interesting, allowed some user interactivity and referenced the physical body. He decided that his remains will be integrated into a computer processor. A virtual agent running on the computer that contains his ashes will scour the web for mentions of his name. As the mentions increase, an on-screen image of Sullivan will morph into an image of his younger self. But if the mentions decline, Sullivan's image will age, deteriorate and eventually fade away."

Rudy Rucker has a new book on the way that describes a hypothetical device he calls a "lifebox" -- an interactive personal database that can simulate conversation with an individual, whether alive or dead. While the "lifebox" isn't a true "upload" or artificial intelligence, it promises to do a good job of faking it, and may prove to be a popular archival tool for those with the requisite hardware and bandwidth.

In the meantime, we have blogs. Will Rucker's "lifebox" turn out to be the logical outgrowth of online self-publishing? Imagine a near-future Internet populated by thousands or millions of digital doppelgangers able to converse in real-time, sharing information with a warm, seemingly human delivery.

A future incarnation of Posthuman Blues might be able to imitate me so effectively that casual users are unable to distinguish the blog's persona from the actual author. If we reach that level of complexity, there will doubtless be those (possibly including blogs themselves) who maintain that the Web has achieved a sort of sentience, with constituent archived personae vying for human rights . . .

Information wants to be self-aware.