If you've looked at the newspapers today, you'll be aware that a 14 year old has become the first British child to be cryogenically frozen following a landmark ruling. The teenager wrote a letter to a judge shortly before her death arguing that cryogenic preservation would be her only hope of being "woken up" when a cancer cure was found. You can read the full story here.
Death is a topic that we are all interested in because at some point, we're all going to have to face it.
In 2013, TIME magazine ran an article titled 'Can Google Solve Death?' It was a piece on Silicon Valley research into ways of avoiding aging and focused on Google’s latest venture. Since then other start-ups have gone further and there is now commercial research into ways of 'avoiding' death. I don’t mean looking for new cures, I mean avoiding death.
Here are three ways you could try and cheat death:
1. Freeze your body
The idea of having your body frozen immediately after death so that when there is a cure for the thing that killed you (even old-age) you can be brought back to life has been around for a long time. See for example Alcor or Cryonics UK. It’s a bit expensive but don’t worry. For £40,000 you can be decapitated after death and just have your head frozen – in which case on being revived they better have some good pain-killers. People will pay up to out-manoeuvre death.
As a minister, death is one of several currencies we learn to deal in, but the process of assisting people who are dying or grieving is always difficult and draining. “I don’t want to die” is a hard question to answer. I mean it’s not really a question but if someone says it you are supposed to say something back. These words are more or less what my mother said in the late stages of cancer. Still mentally alert, still strong in her faith but still a natural thing for anyone to say – and hard for me to reply, since I had already said everything I could think of.
Besides being creepy, I actually think cryogenics attempts to deny us one of the things that makes us human: that we do have a limited number of years.
2. Create a 3-D avatar of yourself
You might be familiar with the recent rise of the 'bots' (short for robots). The simple example of a bot is the voice activated 'chatbot' on your smartphone. Shouting "OK Google…" or "hey Siri…" into your phone and asking for restaurant recommendations, driving directions, or even a point of view on current political affairs, can result in surprising and (sometimes!) useful information. (Although as Microsoft proved it can all go pear shaped). And it’s not just about chatting realistically.
So take this fledgling conversational ability plus levels of computation that go beyond anything we imagine and enter… ETERNIME – Eternime will enable you to 'live forever'.
Simply put ETERNIME assumes that as a human you are basically a collection of memories, mannerisms and physical characteristics. ETERNIME gathers all of these and presents them as 'you'. ETERNIME collects and stores all of your important memories, stories and ideas. Much of this can be collected automatically from Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, e-mail, photos, videos, location information and even fitness trackers. Bots are also becoming capable of learning mannerisms, ways of speaking and repeating sound patterns to sound like you.
While you are still (biologically) alive you then manage this information and decide what stuff to share post-mortem as well as training your look-alike 3-D avatar until eventually it can mimic not only what you did say, but what you might say. Let’s call it your personality. Ultimately your 3-D avatar is there for your loved ones to talk with after you have gone – a bit like a distant Skype call with a friend. Indeed the company’s motto is 'it’s like a Skype chat from the past'. Behind your avatar is colossal computing power, massive cloud storage and…apparently you.
ETERNIME is not alone – there are several life-logging companies, but ETERNIME goes further. It doesn’t just store your information, it learns about you and then re-presents, as you.
Some might say that ETERNIME provides companionship, say like keeping someone’s ashes, but I wonder what happens to our grieving process if we somehow continue to interact with the information and image of a deceased person.
3. Embrace the Christian hope
You can have a replacement immortality or you can seek the real thing. You have to choose. You have to take a view.
As a young man I took a view which still makes sense to me 30 years on - even laying aside all my experiences of God working in my life and the lives of people I have known in this time. My view was that the universe is not simply a gigantic car crash. It’s not a colossal accident of its own making. This idea doesn’t make sense.
I didn’t and I don’t have enough faith to believe that incredibly implausible scenarios happen in sequence, by accident. I don’t have enough faith to believe that things appear and start by themselves. I don’t have enough faith to be an atheist.
“Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope”. 1 Thessalonians 4:13