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Surprising Science

How Facebook Makes You Immortal

The preservation of individuals’ online profiles after their physical death extends their life in a very meaningful sense, says Australian philosopher Patrick Stokes. 

What’s the Latest Development?

Australian philosopher Patrick Stokes argues that the persistence of our online profiles after our physical death makes us immortal in a very meaningful sense. If our fear of death is not limited to the extinction of our physical being, but extends to include our identity as something which exists across time, people’s interaction with the online profiles of the deceased seems to alleviate that fear. “Looking at these Facebook pages of dead people, what struck me was the way that people continue to interact with them,” said Stokes, “and that’s because Facebook is one of the main technologies that we use to communicate our identity.”

What’s the Big Idea?

Might technology advance to assuage our fear of real physical death? Already there is a website that seeks to preserve your identity as an avatar with which future generations can interact. Called Virtual Eternity, after loading photos and filling in some personal details, “the website creates an avatar of you that, with the use of artificial intelligence, can answer questions as if it were you–based on the short script you’ve supplied.” While uploading your consciousness to a computer is theoretically a way around death, Stokes doubts whether anything happening inside a computer would count as something he, as a human, calls experience. 

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