Some fear that the Singularity, when it arrives, will render the human race obsolete. Even if we survive, we’ll toil under the jackboots of our gizmos. But there’s also a sunnier view. If the Singularity goes well, we’ll not only live in what Richard Brautigan termed “mutually programming harmony” with our computers, but we’ll be immortal, our essence uploaded into massively redundant databases for eternity. Chief Singularitarian and newly minted Googler Ray Kurzweil has said that he even plans to bring his deceased dad back to life, reanimating his spirit from a few stray strands of DNA and a closetful of mementos.
But what if the Singularity doesn’t arrive? What if the Singularity turns out to be, as Kevin Kelly once argued, a “meaningless” mirage? It may not matter. Software allows us to simulate all sorts of real-world phenomena, and there’s no reason to believe that it won’t allow us to simulate our own post-Singularity immortality. Alan Jacobs points to a new article in the Guardian that describes a forthcoming app called LivesOn, which, by analyzing your social networking activity while you’re alive, will be able to algorithmically replicate that activity in perpetuity after you expire:
The service uses Twitter bots powered by algorithms that analyse your online behaviour and learn how you speak, so it can keep on scouring the internet, favouriting tweets and posting the sort of links you like, creating a personal digital afterlife. As its tagline explains: “When your heart stops beating, you’ll keep tweeting.”
LivesOn was created as a lame, if effective, publicity stunt by a British advertising agency. But the idea is sound. As more and more of our earthly self comes to be defined by our online profiles and postings, our digital garb, then it becomes a relatively easy task for a computer to replicate that self, dynamically and without interruption, after we’re gone. As long as you keep posting, liking, and tweeting, spewing links to funny GIFs and trenchant longform texts, circulating the occasional, digitally fabricated instagram photo or vine video, your friends and acquaintances will never need know that your body has shuffled off the stage. For all social intents and purposes — and what other intents and purposes are there? — you’ll live forever. I update, therefore I am.
Who’s to say, for that matter, that most of the presences on social networks aren’t already dead, their ongoing existences merely simulated by software? Would you really know the difference?
Image: Detail from Parmigianino’s “Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror.”