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Could Twitter Be the Path to Immortality?

Okay, let’s face it: whether we would seriously want to or not, most of us have toyed with the idea of what it would be like to live beyond the expiration of our current physical bodies, either as a ghost, a cyborg of some kind, or maybe even a Na’vi. While medical science might not be advanced enough yet for our physical bodies to live forever, living on indefinitely might not be as far off as we thought.

luke and ben

With an online service called Lifenaut, an operation called the Terasem Movement Foundation has presented the potential for you to digitally “clone” yourself, through a series of personality tests compiled with data from your social media profiles. Simply put, the idea is to create an online version of yourself that can live forever; a digital avatar that future generations may be able to interact with. Eventually, Terasem wants to transform these digital avatars into walking, talking robots, just like something out of The Twilight Zone. But as of right now, it provides a more primitive version for free.

Personally, I was kind of creeped out by this idea. A lot. But the Foundation (seriously, it doesn’t get much more sci-fi creepy than the fact that they’re actually called “the Foundation”), created by Sirius Satellite Radio co-founder Martine Rothblatt, takes this mission seriously, and they’re not the only ones to be looking to achieve this goal. Just this month, Google unveiled a company called Calico, which is also looking for ways to cheat death. Big names like Oracle CEO Larry Ellison and PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel make sizable contributions to anti-aging research and longevity studies.

Terasem is just tackling the goal of immortality from a different angle: rather than trying to extend our lives, they want to preserve our consciousness (Microsoft researcher Gordon Bell is doing a similar project called LifeBits, where he creates a digital record of everything he does).

So here’s how Lifenaut works: first, you upload a personal photo to the site, which will be used to create an animated avatar, which features blinking eyes and moving lips. Then, you teach the service about yourself, answering a long list of questions and taking a few personality tests. You can also choose to link the service to your Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram accounts, creating a sort of “time capsule” of your social media data, which the Foundation hopes will further shape the personality of your avatar.

Then, one day, you wake up chained to a chair in a dark room in front of a TV screen displaying the activities of your avatar, who has successfully taken over your life.

Just kidding; the Lifenaut project is still in its early stages. The avatars are kind of clunky (and creepy) and Terasem still has a long way to go before it can create true online personalities. It doesn’t currently make use of the data from social media sites; the data is just stored in Terasem’s servers. But, according to Foundation managing director Bruce Duncan, the hope is that people will upload their information now, so it will be waiting when the technology catches up.

“We thought making a single website for people to upload their data would be the best way to democratize it,” says Duncan. “We wanted to build something that was as accessible to as many people as possible.”

Of course you do. [Insert conspiracy theory here]

But, again the big question that will test the viability of Lifenaut in the coming years is whether people would actually want to move from just toying with the idea of immortality, to actually wanting to digitally preserve their identities. Duncan argues “yes.” He says, “Some people think about the legacy of leaving a really rich source of information about themselves. Others say it’s part of their personal development.” To flesh out this “personal development” idea, he suggests the idea of being able to talk with your past self. Say, make your avatar now and talk to it in 10 years or so.

Well, here’s my take: I’m personally not interested in living forever, and thankfully, Lifenaut isn’t trying to keep me (physically) tethered to this world forever. I’m also not totally comfortable with being able to see a clone of myself, digitally or not, but that’s just the sci-fi conspiracy theory side of me. But what about “resurrecting” people? Like, taking the writings and other recorded media of people who have passed away, and making avatars of them?

Clearly, the topic of immortality is a whole Pandora’s box of issues. To read the original article on Lifenaut, click the link below:

http://www.wired.com/wiredenterprise/2013/09/lifenaut/