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Digital Life Cheats Death in the Metaverse

Digital Life Cheats Death in the Metaverse

The question of what happens to us after we die is about to become a lot more complicated thanks to the metaverse and related technological breakthroughs.

While the afterlife has previously been the domain of the spiritual, it is increasingly becoming the domain of the digital too – but does our humanity amount to something more than just data?

Digital life after death

Life and death are no longer limited to the analog world. As we spend more time in the metaverse what it means to live and to die will naturally migrate to the digital realm, too.

Our digital avatars, as representations of ourselves, will live inside the metaverse – but what will happen to those avatars when our physical bodies perish? On social media sites such as Facebook, a user’s profile becomes ‘memorialized’ after a person passes. In the metaverse, the solution may not be so clear-cut.

Frank Wilder, the co-founder of metaverse platform Wilder World, believes death in the metaverse will manifest in different ways according to the personalities of those who have passed on.

“In this digital world, we have the ability to imagine new forms of existence after death, such as the preservation of a person’s digital consciousness or the creation of a virtual memorial,” Wilder told Cointelegraph on Wednesday.

While the “preservation of a person’s digital consciousness” may sound like a pretty wild concept, the idea is quickly becoming mainstream thanks to a number of technological leaps humanity has made over the past few years.

The monkey’s paw

Living forever as a digital avatar may seem far-fetched but it’s something that the metaverse project Somnium Space is already working on.

Spurred on by the grief of his father’s cancer diagnosis, Somnium Space CEO Artur Sychov decided to develop a ‘live forever’ mode in his virtual domain. In live forever mode people have their movements and conversations stored as data, and then allow an avatar to duplicate similar actions later.

Sychov views this digital duplication, or cloning, as a way to preserve something of the original person after their death.

“Literally, if I die – and I have this data collected – people can come or my kids, they can come in, and they can have a conversation with my avatar, with my movements, with my voice,” he told Vice in April of 2022. “You will meet the person. And you would maybe for the first 10 minutes while talking to that person, you would not know that it’s actually AI. That’s the goal.”

One year later Sychov is more excited by the possibilities than ever, especially following the recent breakthroughs in chatbot technology from companies such as OpenAI.

“The AI is progressing extremely fast,” he told Vice in Feb, “Honestly, it is progressing faster than even we anticipated.”

Life as a digital ghost

Such is the lightning speed of these developing technologies, there is very little time to consider the moral implications.

Earlier this year a chatbot app called ‘Historical Figures’ promised to let users talk with famous names from history including Jesus and Adolf Hitler. Although Jesus is already said to have been resurrected once before, Historical Figures marked the first recorded instance of his resurrection within users’ smartphones. As for Hitler, that’s a whole other matter.

The emulation of historical figures is made possible through known facts about these individuals. That data, known publicly due to their fame or infamy, makes the replication process possible. For most historical people who never reached those heights of fame, that replication would not be feasible. 

Modern individuals are different. Internet users create huge amounts of data about themselves on social media and other platforms. People who go on to traverse the metaverse will create vast quantities of data that is, by orders of magnitude, far denser and more richly detailed. It is estimated that just twenty minutes of immersion in VR creates two million unique data points.

One cannot help but think of the Black Mirror episode in which a grieving girlfriend uses a digital service to ‘resurrect’ her dead partner, the replicant relying on AI and the boyfriend’s social media post history to imitate him.

As MetaNews previously reported, privacy in the metaverse may not even be possible.

Anyone who enters the metaverse will likely leave a huge amount of data behind them after they die, and if that data isn’t deemed to be private, then anyone could use it for any purpose. 

The digital realm may present some with an opportunity to cheat death. It may offer others a place to be memorialized forever. For everyone else, if your data doesn’t belong to you, it could mean that your digital ghost is resurrected whether you approve or not. 

Image credits: Shutterstock, CC images, Midjourney, Unsplash.

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