I’ve been thinking a lot about death and the virtual afterlife recently.
It all started with the bombings. Or 7/7 as our brand driven culture seems to want to term it. Then I read a posting on boing boing about the death of Keith Alexander – which got me bouncing from link to link having the increasingly spooky experience of reading his blogs. Especially the mini site devoted to the process of getting a huge Koi tattoo. Was this morbid voyeurism or a participation in a post mortem celebration of a fascinating life?
But this was just the start.
I recently learnt of the sudden death of fellow virtual world researcher Mário José Lopes Guimarães Jr. Mário was one of those conference / email friends that the loosely coupled world of academe throws up. We were due to meet up for drinks in London one Wed or Thurs but things came up so we had to postpone it till the next week, or sometime, definitely sometime. He died that Friday in a road accident.
Mário’s work dealt with avatars, in his words “constitution, performance and social significance of avatars” which he was looking at across virtual worlds and from a number of perspectives. A number of papers can be read on Mário’s site.
This all got me thinking about our embodiment in cyberspace, the way that it both exists in parallel to us and the way that it persists after us. There’s a bunch of SF about ways in which we can live for ever by way of loading our personality construct into an AI. But I’m wondering what we can do right now and how far we can take it. The considerations are very much like those in the Clock of the Long Now, but I’m not setting a 10,000 year target but wondering what a practical target would be.
This is where I went with this – first off I just started to think about hosting, say we just have a personal web site that we want to keep going after we die. 1 year is not a problem. 5 to 10 years we have to start thinking about companies that we think are going to be around for a while, say IBM. 50 years we get into all kinds of issues of long term funding, setting up ways to ensure that ones interests are maintained e.g. a legal firm holding a trust and fund stream that will manage changes across technologies etc.
Then I started to wonder about the degree of personality that one could build into these things. We could move from a basic site to a virtual world or some kind of interactive system. But I wonder how that would work and where technology is going. For example I wonder if AI’s can start to mimic probably responses by data mining things like the 50k or so email that I have on my server. What would be really neat is an AI system that learn they way I am by watching what I do then can gradually take over or fill in. This is one the aims of projects like THE REAL, so I know people are working on it. What do I need to start to store, is it too late, does my data shadow have to monitored form birth, do we actually need access to the data of people I’ve interacted with, can we look at personally changes over time and project what they would be like in the future given new facts about the world.
Or, is this all just the most narcissistic project one could imagine?
So, for Keith, for Mário, heck just for the intellectual fun of it – thoughts?