Eighty four dead bodies are being held in liquid nitrogen in a facility in Michigan, USA, with their families hoping that one day they can be brought back to life. These people have been subjected to cryonics, whereby their bodies have been frozen so that they can be revived in the future once a cure has been found for whatever caused their death.
Having your body frozen in perpetuity is a clear indication of our hope for permanent life. None of us like to think that our life will end. Indeed, some argue that one of the main psychological functions of religion is to provide us with immortality because “we have an afterlife” (for which, of course, there is no scientific evidence as yet).
Luckily, though, immortality will be with us, almost certainly within my lifetime – and I’m not in the first flush of youth. The Internet is coming to the rescue and – assuming we have electrical power – your life as you know it could continue.
Already it’s fairly obvious that what you say online – in chat rooms, blogs or social networking sites – will be stored in perpetuity. In a few hundred years time, members of your family – indeed anyone – will be able to read every word you ever wrote online, providing a huge clue to your life and personality. Of course, not everyone’s writing will live on like The Complete Works of Shakespeare, but even your comments in social networking sites will be there forever.
However, this is not immortality; we’d hardly say that Shakespeare is still with us. Immortality, surely, means that you know you are still alive – you are consciously aware of your existence. But biological connections to computerised technology are already with us. For example, disabled people can control robotic equipment using nerve stimulation. So, it is not going to be long before you will be able to connect your brain to the Internet.
That means it will be possible to back up your brain to some central web-based store. Already, we don’t have to make much of an attempt to remember things as we can store great details of our lives on web-based services, using search facilities to find them. Until the development of these services we simply had to remember things; now we don’t need to remember the details of that holiday snap as we can find it on our online photo storage with a couple of keywords, for instance.
But backing up your brain – perhaps even uploading your consciousness – means your brain will be able to live on after your death. And that means your “brain” will still know it’s alive. And it will still be able to interact with other “brains” and living people connected to you via the Internet.
Reckon this all sounds far fetched? Well guess what – you would have said it would be far fetched for people to be able to make phone calls to each other without a telephone line. And you’d have said that about five years ago – yet now we have Skype.
Dumping your brain online and allowing it to live forever will make you immortal – and it will be a whole load cheaper than freezing your body in liquid nitrogen.