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What's the Big Idea? Is Immortality within our Grasp?

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There have been a number of articles and discussions about what Immortality actually is. One of the most popular conceptions of Immortality is based on the notion of “the singularity” – a time when humans and technology merge to create beings that never die. I have had the privilege of seeing one of the original and most controversial protagonists of this theory, Ray Kurzweil speak on this topic and my recollection is that he wants to be amongst those lucky enough to live long enough to experience this augmentation of physical human capabilities.

Whilst it is certainly true that developments in nano-technologies and our understanding of the human physiology are all heading in the direction of longer lifespans, I believe that a more important definition of Immortality is already within our grasp. I recently read a BBC article suggesting that it will be possible to capture all our memories from our brains and transfer them to electronic machine storage. Once this becomes a reality, it will mean that we will have the ability to create an avatar capable of remembering and behaving exactly like its human equivalent.

Digital storage and communications technologies, combined with the growing array of sensors and tracking devices mean that the “digital trace” of our lives is becoming more and more comprehensive and accessible to future generations with the associated implications for the potential ongoing influence we might have after our death.

For me, this is the true definition of Immortality and the one that we think of when we remember influential historical figures whose lives and deeds have been captured in the hearts and minds of ensuing generations. Therefore, I think Immortality has always been within our grasp but the power of the digital age offers that opportunity for Immortality to many more people.

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What's the Big Idea? Is Immortality within our Grasp?

  1. 1. In the final chapter my “Gadgets to God” book (www.gadgetstogodbook.com), I floated some controversial ideas and concepts about the future impact of technology on business and society. One of these ideas concerned the notion that Immortality might be within the reach of current generations of human beings. Below is the original text from the final chapter (The Beginning of the End or End of the Beginning?) in the book :- “Immortality has been a Holy Grail for mankind across the thousands of years of our existence and now mankind has the potential to become immortal in more than one sense. Many of the people that I have met and whose works are described in my book are already immortal in a very real sense. Just as Christianity’s Jesus Christ and the great Prophets of other religions still influence the attitudes and behaviours of countless millions of people, the works and thoughts of prominent men and women have been archived in digital format to be discovered and accessed for future generations and their contribution to mankind will continue as long as humans and computers exist side by side on our planet. When I had the task of clearing out my mother’s home before she moved into care, I discovered many long-forgotten and, in some cases, unknown memorabilia in the form of photographs, letters and diaries that belonged to members of my family that are no longer with us. When I look at the faded smiles on these sepia coloured prints and cuttings I am transported back in time to their feelings and their emotions and memories and their presence is with me once more – as long as such items exists, as increasingly they will, these people will remain immortal and ready to make their mark on all who discover their legacy. In the physical sense also developments in genome technology and our growing ability to implant technology inside human beings could see the span of active and functional life extended substantially and potentially forever. Finally, through the creation of our alter ego avatars we have created representations of ourselves that could continue to live on and function through artificial intelligence indefinitely. Our avatars do not yet age or decline and on the contrary actually have the potential to continue to learn and develop long after their human creator has left this world.”
  2. 2. Chapter Ten – The Beginning of the End or the End of the Beginning? Since I wrote the book some 3 years ago, there have been a number of articles and discussions about what Immortality actually is. One of the most popular conceptions of Immortality is based on the notion of “the singularity” – a time when humans and technology merge to create beings that never die. I have had the privilege of seeing one of the original and most controversial protagonists of this theory, Ray Kurzweil, speak on this topic and my recollection is that he wants to be amongst those lucky enough to live long enough to experience this augmentation of physical human capabilities. Whilst it is certainly true that developments in nano-technologies and our understanding of the human physiology are all heading in the direction of longer lifespans, I believe that a more important definition of Immortality is already within our grasp. I recently read a BBC article suggesting that it will be possible to capture all our memories from our brains and transfer them to electronic machine storage. Once this becomes a reality, it will mean that we will have the ability to create an avatar capable of remembering and behaving exactly like its human equivalent. Digital storage and communications technologies, combined with the growing array of sensors and tracking devices mean that the “digital trace” of our lives is becoming more and more comprehensive and accessible to future generations with the associated implications for the potential on-going influence we might have after our death. For me, this is the true definition of Immortality and the one that we think of when we remember influential historical figures whose lives and deeds have been captured in the hearts and minds of ensuing generations. Therefore, I think Immortality has always been within our grasp but the power of the digital age offers that opportunity for Immortality to many more people.

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