Digital immortality: How to create an eternal copy of yourself
The world around us is changing rapidly, from a prehistoric physical environment 50,000 years ago to a digital world of the future, signs of which are here with us today.
As a result, many aspects of our lives are becoming increasingly digital, and soon virtually everything in our business and personal lives will be represented by ones and zeros, bits and bytes. The digital world is no longer a fantasy, it is reality.
Modern IT trends reflect this change. Unlimited computer power is now available to anybody and at any time through cloud technologies. Powerful mobile computers are in everyone’s hand, and they are always connected to the virtually unlimited computing capacity of the cloud and the endless information available on the Internet.
At the same time, the social aspects of our life -- one of the basic human needs -- are now satisfied by various social networks. People practically live there, inside the digital world, entering it through their personal devices.
Everything around us is becoming digital.
Consider the changes we’ve seen in the financial services industry. Most financial operations are conducted electronically today. It’s only a matter of time when paper money and bank cards become obsolete and Blockchain record-keeping takes centre-stage, guaranteeing security of all transactions without central authorities.
Digital technology is driving modern-day health services and manufacturing. Most objects can be reproduced on a 3D printer. People’s health information, statistics and life activity are monitored in real-time by wearable devices.
Finally, everything around us is becoming a part of the Internet of Things.
The world has also seen the arrival of robots and drones, replacing real people right in their own workplaces.
Big data technology makes massive amounts of information usable for specific purposes and artificial intelligence is becoming smarter every day, making all these digital devices and programs trainable, and nearly alive.
All this leads to an explosive and ever-accelerating growth of data, over 125 percent per year on average, while opening up a world of new opportunities to connect and learn, forcing people to have a new approach to life in this new digital reality.
Today’s digital world is directly related to one of the hot topics of today: Technological singularity. Wikipedia defines singularity as "the point beyond which events may become unpredictable or even unfathomable to human intelligence".
In my view, singularity will arrive when the digital world becomes larger and more important than the physical world.
Data, digits, bits and bytes will become something that without which there will be no life, just like there is no life without water, food, or air. Soon, digital information will become just as important as the air we breathe.
We can already see this happening today -- think about larger businesses, organizations and groups of people who rely on digital processes and data availability. Without data, they would cease to exist.
Humans have always been preoccupied with looking for secrets of immortality and bringing people back to life.
The Egyptian pharaohs were at the forefront of technology of their time. They mummified their bodies and were buried in tombs together with their possessions, treasures, and even servants and family members.
In addition, they inscribed their life stories with hieroglyphs and pictures along the tomb’s walls.
If you think about it, their attempts to become immortal were not as futile as it is often perceived. We have a real possibility to create a clone of one of the pharaohs based on his DNA (there are DNA traces of Tutankhamun, an Egyptian pharaoh during 1332-1323 BC), and restore his personality based on information found inside his tomb and the pyramid where he was buried.
Today we have more advanced ways to preserve a human being and their life as we understand it -- by saving all data directly or indirectly related to the person in question in addition to their DNA throughout their lifetime.
Most likely, even the person’s mind and thinking can be turned into a collection of digital and quantum data in order to be preserved.
Unlike the physical world where nothing is eternal, and everything is subject to change, the loss of properties in the digital world is different.
With some exceptions, digital data is virtually eternal. It can be moved from place to place, from one storage medium to another without any loss of quality for any defined period of time -- for longer than the known life of our universe, for example.
Even more so, any errors discovered with time can be corrected along the way if proper error correction techniques are utilized.
This may well mean that if you have a digital copy of a human being in your possession, one day you may be able to 'restore' it, thousands, millions and even billions of years from now.
Since it is not exactly clear which part of your data is sufficient or relevant, there needs to be a complete set of data in existence -- personal notes, photos, diaries, correspondence, medical records, as well as third-party information, such as friends’ memories, their photos of this person, and so on.
Restoring this data in the future may help to create a digital 'copy' of a human being -- someone who will be able to react to the outside world and show behavior patterns in line with the 'original' -- and even talking and answering questions in the same way.
An enhanced version of the famous Turing test could be designed to verify the success of this restoration of the original.
The ethical conundrum
Creating a clone of a human being from DNA is already technologically possible (although there are certain ethical and moral obstacles), and there is nothing extraordinary in recording and storing large amounts of information about a particular person.
The question is how to fully 'upload' this information into the clone to make it better than just a virtual copy.
Today, a human life’s worth of digital data 'weighs' probably less than 10 terabytes, but may increase up to one petabyte, taking into account the rapid speed of information and data growth.
And recording and storing this data has grown beyond the practical sense, and now has philosophical and metaphysical meaning.
Without a doubt, possessing large amounts of person-specific information raises questions about privacy and data safety.
And this is exactly why we need to learn how to control it and develop tools to manage this information.
It is not yet clear what data is necessary for a 'proper' restoration of a unique human being. To be on the safe side, it is recommended to record absolutely everything -- every step, every meeting, and every memory.
Hopefully in the future there will be an easier way to do that without disrupting people’s daily activities. There are already some apps designed for creating extensive records during sleep and physical exercises, and more will likely come.
Think about Tutankhamun, the most powerful person on Earth as of 3,300 years ago. In addition to his DNA, there is a rather large amount of information in the form of memories and manuscripts containing detailed accounts of his life.
But all of this is just a fraction of what is possible to record today about every living person (or business), protecting people’s lives for the future to see.
This data may prove to be a lifeline for people and organizations, and perhaps become a path to the immortality and rebirth people have always dreamed of.
Serguei Beloussov is the CEO of global data protection leader Acronis, having founded the company in 2001. He has 20 years’ experience in building, growing and leading high performing, multi-national high tech companies in North America, Europe and Asia, founding his first two businesses in the mid-90s. Although Serguei continues as a senior partner at Runa Capital venture fund and executive chairman and chief architect of Parallels, his main focus remains Acronis. The business currently employs more than 850 employees and has enjoyed rapid growth since its birth 14 years ago, generating revenue of almost £100m.