Commercialising the Afterlife – COVID-19 series

Life is fragile, and COVID-19 has been a stark reminder. When mortality looks us in the eye, we’ll do almost anything to avoid it. We’ll even lock ourselves away for weeks at a time. Our instincts tell us to do whatever’s required keep on breathing. Brands know this. Some of the worlds most powerful brands have been built around the fear of our humanity – our need for security, safety, love and hope that everything will be ok. And in the not too distant future, technology companies will be able to offer us something much more profound – everlasting life, albeit, in the cloud.

We’re about to become the first immortal generation. Before 2050, most of us will have the option of extending our life beyond death. It will be a virtual existence, but for all intents and purposes there will be no noticeable difference to our reality in meatspace. I say most people, because this opportunity won’t come free. Your friendly big tech firm will be the purveyor permanence for a tidy, everlasting, monthly fee. In the coming decades we will finally commercialise the afterlife. 

What will happen: Much like we do now with our computers, our lives will be backed up to the cloud everyday. A lifetime of memories, experiences, relationships, knowledge, physical ability and everything inside your skin, will have a digital copy in the cloud. All in readiness for that fateful, unexpected moment, when it all comes to an end. At which time, your life 2.0 will commence.

The type of life you live in the cloud, just like earth, will depend how much money you have. Different Afterlife Platforms will have different costs and benefits. They’ll be 5 star VR’s and digital ghettos with platform insecurities and bugs. There’ll be a general carriage fee for living, and separate fees for what you choose to consume in cloudspace. Of course, your family, friends and loved ones will be able to visit the new you via logging in with a haptic suits and a neural lace – for a fee of course. Lifetime customer will have an entirely new meaning.

We’re well underway: This is not as crazy as it sounds. We only need a few ingredients for this to be possible. The first, is a place to live. A computer system our virtual selves can call home. At a rudimentary level we’ve already built thousands of these – video games and virtual reality platforms. Increasingly we are creating virtual versions of the physical world we live in. Google maps could well be the software seed of a virtual replication of planet earth. As for ourselves, as each day passes we are recording more of what we do, mostly externally, but within the next 2 decades, computers will enter our bodies through Brain Machine Interfaces (BMI’s) . These can take various forms; from neural connections, to brain wave reading devices or even with computerised nano-bots in the bloodstream. A number of tech firms including NeuralLink funded by Elon Musk are deep into developing such technologies. Today BMI’s already do far more than store information. We can already turn a humans thoughts into live pictures, and a man in America made a chatbot with his now dead father who he now has post mortem conversations with. The seeds have been sewn, it’s only a matter of time.

It could fantastical, or disastrous: Our life, after life might even be better than the one we had on earth. We could have super powers, new skills, be able to fly, live in a mansion, anything. Or we could become prisoners to the past, trapped with painful memories, in never ending quasi-reality which sends us mad. Maybe the tech firm in charge of our afterlife will sell certain memory deletions, or allow us to buy someone else’s former reality?

Of course, it raises important questions; Would life insurance still be valid if you chose to upload after death? Would we become misers in our meatspace life to ensure a comfortable afterlife? And what about kids eager to inherit their parents wealth? What if an afterlife platform got hacked, and killed millions of virtual people? Should they have a backup to re-spawn, or would that violate their singular existence? The implications are endless.

Tech is the new Religion: It turns out Big Tech and Religion are more similar than we imagine. Neither of them pay their fair share of tax, and Big Tech is about add everlasting life to its brand promise, just like Religion does. It could well be the end of faith as we know it. It’s ironic given that the worlds biggest religion (Christianity) only has 10 terms and conditions and Facebook has terms with over 20,000 words which no one reads, let alone understands. The Facebook empire now boasts 2.45 billion users and has recently overtaken Christianity which now has 2.3 billion adherents.

The finances tells the same story. Since the COVID-19 crisis, the S&P 500 has lost $2.5 trillion in market value, yet just the top 6 technology firms have added $215 billion to their market capitalisations. These 6 firms are well on their way to representing 30% of the market. If you ever had any doubt as to the power of technology, then it’s time to reconsider who the new Gods are.

On a long enough timeline, the probability of death for everyone is 100%. It raises a serious ethical question as to whether we should want to escape it, and if we do, should this be something a corporation can own, control and monetize?

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Keep thinking.