The Augmented Eternity project at the MIT Media Lab is a fascinating and controversial exploration of the concept of digital immortality. The project aims to create a platform that allows people to create a digital version of themselves that can interact with the world even after their death, using artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning algorithms to analyse a person’s digital footprint and create a digital representation of them.
On the surface, the Augmented Eternity project seems like a fascinating and innovative idea. Who wouldn’t want to live forever, even if it’s only in the digital world? But when you dig deeper, you start to realise that this technology raises some serious ethical concerns.
For one, the idea of creating a digital version of someone without their permission is deeply troubling. Sure, the project team says that they will respect people’s privacy and provide them with control over their digital legacy, but how can we be sure that this will actually happen? What if someone creates a digital version of you that you don’t want to exist? What if they use your digital data to create a version of you that is completely different from who you actually are?
Another concern is the potential for abuse. What if someone creates a digital version of a deceased celebrity and uses it to promote products or services without their permission? What if they use the digital version of a deceased person to spread misinformation or propaganda? The possibilities for abuse are endless, and it’s hard to see how this technology can be regulated in a way that prevents these kinds of abuses.
But perhaps the biggest concern is the impact that digital immortality could have on our understanding of death and the afterlife. Death is a natural part of life, and it’s something that we all have to face eventually. But if we start to believe that we can live forever in the digital world, what does that mean for our understanding of mortality? Will we start to see death as something that can be avoided or postponed indefinitely? Will we lose our appreciation for the fleeting nature of life and the importance of making the most of the time that we have?
A close friend of mine lost his sister to cancer a few years ago. She was a fighter and was the first person in Ireland to have a kidney and pancreas transplant that gave her 20 years of life. Now my friend, as much as he misses his sister every day, does not like the idea of talking to a digital version of her. He believes that death is a natural part of life and that we should cherish the memories that we have of our loved ones, rather than trying to recreate them in the digital world.
Despite these concerns, the Augmented Eternity project is moving forward, and it’s clear that there is a lot of interest in this technology. But before we embrace digital immortality, we need to have a serious conversation about the ethical implications of this technology and how we can ensure that it is used in a responsible and ethical manner.
One possible solution is to require explicit consent from individuals before a digital version of them can be created. This would ensure that people have control over their digital legacy and can decide for themselves whether they want to exist in the digital world after their death. Another solution is to develop regulations and guidelines for the use of digital immortality, similar to the way that we regulate other emerging technologies.
But perhaps the most important thing that we can do is to have a conversation about what it means to be human and what it means to be mortal. Death is a natural part of life, and it’s something that we all have to face eventually. But it’s also what gives life meaning and purpose. If we start to believe that we can live forever in the digital world, we risk losing sight of what makes life worth living in the first place.
The Augmented Eternity project is just one example of the many ways that technology is changing our understanding of what it means to be human. From AI and machine learning to virtual reality and the metaverse, we are constantly pushing the boundaries of what is possible. But as we do so, we need to remember that technology is not neutral. It reflects the values and priorities of the people who create it, and it can have profound impacts on our society and our culture.
As we move forward with the Augmented Eternity project and other emerging technologies, we need to ask ourselves some tough questions. What kind of world do we want to create? What kind of values do we want to prioritise? And how can we ensure that technology is used in a way that benefits everyone, rather than just a select few?
Ultimately, the Augmented Eternity project is a fascinating and controversial exploration of the concept of digital immortality. While there are certainly benefits to this technology, there are also serious ethical concerns that need to be addressed. Before we embrace digital immortality, we need to have a serious conversation about the implications of this technology and how we can ensure that it is used in a responsible and ethical manner. Ultimately, we need to remember that death is a natural part of life, and it’s what gives life meaning and purpose.