“ I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhauser gate. All those moments will be lost in time… like tears in rain… Time to die.” – Roy Batty, Blade Runner
For those of us who are lucky (read: middle-to-upper class, Westerner, decent health habits), there may not be a time to die. At least not for a very long time. Maybe even a thousand years if British author and gerontologist Aubrey de Grey is correct. De Grey and scores of researchers around the world have been working on reversing the aging process through various means including regenerative medicine. Indeed, De Grey famously quoted in 2008 “the first human who will live up to 1,000 years is probably already alive now, and might even be today between 50 and 60 years old.”
Similarly, noted Futurist/author/inventor Ray Kurzweil predicts humans will eventually live forever, through a mix of what he refers to as GNR (genetics, nanotechnology and robotics). “My cell phone is a billion times more powerful per dollar than the computer we all shared when I was an undergrad at MIT,” wrote Kurzweil in 2009. “And we will do it again in 25 years. What used to take up a building now fits in my pocket, and what now fits in my pocket will fit inside a blood cell in 25 years. ”
In this MIT lecture Kurzeill remarks “Say goodbye to cancer and heart disease within 15 years, and hello to living way past 80.”
One issue De Grey, Kurzweill and other anti-aging soothsayers seldom discuss, however, is self-identity. Even at the age 20, human beings are not who they were when they were five — completely different epidermis, different blood and scant if any memory of themselves as five year olds. Imagine at 300 years old; you will be a complete stranger to the person you are now (unless, of course, total Singularity happens). All of which begs the question: what is the point of immortality if you are essentially “reincarnated” as a complete stranger?
Enter the cloud. Storing your digital identity in a social cloud service like Facebook or G+ will serve as a personal time capsule if you live to 200, 300 years and beyond. Everything that comprises your personality — your tastes, thoughts, friends, family, images, career — is often now digitized in the form of photos, videos, blogs, emails and short form text like Twitter or SMS. As the Nexus 6 replicants of Blade Runner showed, the difference between being a synthetic cyborg and human being ultimately comes down to memories. It’s the essence of what makes us unique individuals. Lose your memories, however, and you become whatever you are programmed to be.
While there are several reasons to be wary of loading your entire life on a platform like Facebook, including privacy, the fact of the matter is that a cloud-based digital backup of your life is a much safer, convenient bet than ever-changing storage devices like optical discs or hard drive. Technology is always changing as any graybeard who has owned a Zip drive or 720MB CD ROM burner knows; it’s a pain in the ASCII to migrate personal data like email every five years or so – a bigger hassle than learning how to tweak the granular privacy settings of Facebook even if they seem to change every few years.
Sure there are dozens of options including memorials websites like Remembered.com, e-Forever and MyHeartWill, but the chances of those services surviving for hundreds of years is considerably lower than Facebook who, capitalized to the tune of $2 billion and counting, is poised to become the IBM of social media in terms of longevity. If you want to electronically ”live forever” then Facebook is probably your best bet. Google too — especially Gmail. With its new Timeline feature, however, Facebook has already shown the value of the personal time capsule: your life in an easy, navigable snapshot.
It’s almost inevitable humans will live well into their hundreds so we may as well start storing our self-identity now for the future. Unless, a solar flare, EMP or energy shortage sets us back to a digital Stone Age. Maybe you should store a hardcopy back up too. — MG
An example of why identity matters in the future.