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Digital Afterlife?

The dead are becoming increasingly present in cyberspace.

A 2017 article published on noted that in 2012, the number of ‘‘dead’’ profiles on Facebook was estimated to be increasing at a rate of 19,000 per day. Depending on Facebook’s user growth rate, the dead profiles are expected to exceed the number of living user profiles.

Today, virtually all of our online footprints are being stored like breadcrumbs that can be used to retrace our steps, track our assets and finances, and provide insights into our values, views, and personalities. These are linked to text messages, emails, and photographic records of ourselves and our families, and even three-dimensional replicas of our faces.

Recent advances in AI (Artificial Intelligence) are making it possible for this data to be used to reconstruct fully interactive replicas of actual people. These artificial copies can know intimate details about us and can talk, move, smile, and interact with uncanny similarity.

This has spawned a new Digital Afterlife Industry of at least 57 firms. They offer interactive memories in the loved one’s voice (HereAfter); an entity that sends prescheduled messages to loved ones after the user’s death (MyWishes); and even a robotics company that made a robotic head of a departed woman based on “her memories, feelings, and beliefs,” which could converse with humans and even took a college course (Hanson Robotics).

Microsoft has a patent for creating a conversational chatbot of a specific person using their “social data.” The company reportedly decided against turning this idea into a product, but not because of legal or rights-based concerns. There are no current legal restrictions on this technology.

Scientists and companies are struggling with ethical dilemmas posed by the possibility of bots that can mimic the lives of actual people. Assuming someone chooses to be memorialized this way, can these bots be trusted to accurately represent someone after they’re gone? It’s not hard to imagine a situation where malicious actors might insert inauthentic data about a person, driving outcomes different from what the person intended. Who will monitor and advocate for a person after they're gone?

In today’s world, it is becoming harder to discern what is real, let alone true. In my own case, I’ve come across Facebook accounts like this one that are impersonating me. (Ironically, they have more 'friends' than my real account.)

It’s hard enough keeping track of our own online identities; imagine having to keep tabs on the ‘actions’ of departed loved ones as well.

Immortality is in Our Nature

In a way, this is another example of the human search for immortality. It’s pretty compelling evidence that we were created with immortality in our nature. When Adam and Eve fell, they lost that immortal state but not the yearning for it. We still yearn for it. This is the very thing that Christ came to restore to us.

The real immortality that we possess in Christ is way better than cyberspace…

Now we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about those who are asleep, so that you will not grieve like the rest who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, so also we believe that God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep as Christians.

For we tell you this by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will surely not go ahead of those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven with a shout of command, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be suddenly caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will always be with the Lord.

Therefore, encourage one another with these words...

~[ New English Translation (NET) Bible ] I Thessalonians 4:13-18

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