Disrupting death: Could we really live forever in digital form?

Virtual reality, robots, chatbots and holograms could allow us to exist perpetually. Whether we should choose the option is a different story.

Alison DeNisco Rayome | c/Net

In 2016, Jang Ji-sung’s young daughter Nayeon passed away from a blood-related disease. But in February, the South Korean mother was reunited with her daughter in virtual reality. Experts constructed a version of her child using motion capture technology for a documentary. Wearing a VR headset and haptic gloves, Jang was able to walk, talk and play with this digital version of her daughter.

“Maybe it’s a real paradise,” Jang said of the moment the two met in VR. “I met Nayeon, who called me with a smile, for a very short time, but it’s a very happy time. I think I’ve had the dream I’ve always wanted.”

Once largely the concern of science fiction, more people are now interested in immortality — whether that’s keeping your body or mind alive forever (as explored in the new Amazon Prime comedy Upload), or in creating some kind of living memorial, like an AI-based robot or chatbot version of yourself, or of your loved one. The question is — should we do that? And if we do, what should it look like? 

In Korea, a mother was reunited with a virtual reality version of her young daughter who had passed away years before, as part of a documentary project.MBC

Modern interest around immortality started in the 1960s, when the idea of cryonics emerged — freezing and storing a human corpse or head with the hope of resurrecting that person in the distant future. (While some people have chosen to freeze their body after death, none have yet been revived.) 

“There was a shift in death science at that time, and the idea that somehow or another death is something humans can defeat,” said John Troyer, director of the Centre for Death and Society at the University of Bath and author of Technologies of the Human Corpse

However, no peer-reviewed research suggests it’s worth pouring millions of dollars into trying to upload our brains, or finding ways to keep our bodies alive, Troyer said. At least not yet. A 2016 study published in the journal PLOS ONE did find that exposing a preserved brain to chemical and electrical probes could make the brain function again, to some degree. 

“It’s all a gamble about what’s possible in the future,” Troyer said. “I’m just not convinced it’s possible in the way [technology companies] are describing, or desirable.”

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https://www.cnet.com/features/disrupting-death-could-we-really-live-on-in-digital-form/

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