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Digital Immortality

Avatars are bound to become a more and more faithful representation of their physical counterpart. Embedded with a person digital twin they might share memories and character of the persons they are impersonating. Image credit: Weird Things

In discussing Digital Health the main goal is to live better and possibly a bit longer using medical support in a more effective way, i.e. spending less.

Some people are looking at life in a different way. We are who we are beyond our body constraints, one of which is our limited life span. If we could create a copy of ourselves in the cyberspace most of the physical constraints, including the limited time span, would disappear.

The idea of the Digital Twin fits well into this: our digital twin can be in synch with us as we are alive and can continue to exist once we are gone. As it played a role of intermediary as we were alive it could continue to be our impersonator once we are gone. I already mentioned Replika, a service that allows a people to interact with friends long gone.

Now I stumbled onto an article on MIT Technology Review on Digital Immortality that gives a different twist to digital life.

Prof. Rahnama at Ryerson University has been working on digitalising “people” to capture their characters and is now at work to create an avatar of a CEO that would keep being part of that company once the physical CEO will step down. The avatar will be able to provide advice to the company long after the current CEO has step down.

The article presents several interesting aspects related to digital immortality, surely worth reading and I won’t replicate those considerations here.

What I would like to point out is the ethical and societal issues rising from the digitalisation of the self by a company. This is a point we explored in the Symbiotic Autonomous Systems Initiative second White Paper.

Once you have a digital twin, that will be used in your company to work in teams with other employees digital twins, to share knowledge and expertise. Your digital twin will grow as your experience in the company grows. Once you quit what will happen to the expertise/knowledge embedded in that digital twin? Will the company be able (have the right) to keep it? Will the company simply create a duplicate of your digital twin and keep it as a virtual employer long since you have retired? Will you be able to get some payment every time your digital twin knowledge is exploited? Would the company transfer your digital twin knowledge in another digital twin, the one of the company itself?

A whole new set of issues opens up as we decouple our knowledge from ourselves. In a way the issue was already here from the moment humankind started to write and use books as a source of knowledge. That knowledge exceeded human life span, we are still learning from Plato!, and a whole set of intellectual rights rules had to be created. Digital twins are not that different from a book, but they are much more efficient and they are dynamical. The “Scripta Manent” does not apply to digital twins. They keep evolving and it is not clear who the real owner is, nor how it will be possible to enforce ownership.

About Roberto Saracco

Roberto Saracco fell in love with technology and its implications long time ago. His background is in math and computer science. Until April 2017 he led the EIT Digital Italian Node and then was head of the Industrial Doctoral School of EIT Digital up to September 2018. Previously, up to December 2011 he was the Director of the Telecom Italia Future Centre in Venice, looking at the interplay of technology evolution, economics and society. At the turn of the century he led a World Bank-Infodev project to stimulate entrepreneurship in Latin America. He is a senior member of IEEE where he leads the Industry Advisory Board within the Future Directions Committee and co-chairs the Digital Reality Initiative. He teaches a Master course on Technology Forecasting and Market impact at the University of Trento. He has published over 100 papers in journals and magazines and 14 books.