AI and the Epic of Gilgamesh: Humanity’s 4,000 year quest for immortality made digital
“As for man, his days are numbered, whatever he might do, it is but wind.”
The Epic of Gilgamesh
Humanity’s most ubiquitous quest throughout the eons has been the realization of its own mortality — that one day, we will leave our physical bodies and our legacy is all that will remain.
The oldest-known written record on Earth chronicles the Sumerian king Gilgamesh’s epic journey through the underworld to achieve immortality over 4,000 years ago, yet this story continues to be played out.
Now in the age of information, we ask ourselves what if there were a way to preserve a fragment of our consciousness on the most connected matrix ever invented; the Internet? Could our technology be the answer for achieving immortality?
Recent films like Chappie, Lucy, Automata, and Transcendence offer us glimpses into the future of AI in which our bodies, which act like hardware in a computer, are no longer the necessary mediums to house our ethereal consciousness – that which make us think, feel, and ponder our own existence.
That is the direction that social media is taking with the development of Artificial Intelligence (AI) to create a continuous enduring legacy even after we have shuffled off this mortal coil.
Through advanced algorithms and predictive software, developers are now working on social media platforms that will be able to virtually anticipate, learn, and grow to organically interact on your behalf whether you are physically present or not.
Before they can achieve this vision, social media companies like Facebook are looking to use AI for more basic and practical uses. In a Q&A last June, Facebook CEO and Co-Founder Mark Zuckerberg said that the future of social media was in AI.
“We’re working on AI because we think more intelligent services will be much more useful for you to use. For example, if we had computers that could understand the meaning of the posts in News Feed and show you more things you’re interested in, that would be pretty amazing. Similarly, if we could build computers that could understand what’s in an image and could tell a blind person who otherwise couldn’t see that image, that would be pretty amazing as well. This is all within our reach and I hope we can deliver it in the next 10 years.”
“How long is the eye able to look at the sun? From the very beginning nothing at all has lasted.”
One company dedicated to researching and applying AI in a practical way is ETER9, a social media platform that creates virtual beings or “Counterparts” that act on your behalf when you are not present.
The creators of ETER9 are calling it “a social network that relies on Artificial Intelligence as a central element […] even in your absence, the virtual beings will publish, comment and interact with you intelligently.”
“ETER9 is not just another social network, it brings fresh air to all social users,” ETER9 CEO Henrique Jorge told IBTimes UK. “The concept of immortality is attracting more and more people to the platform.”
Perhaps if Gilgamesh had access to such technology, he would not have needed to venture on his long and perilous journey to discover the secrets of eternal life. Instead, he could have lived on through his virtual counterpart.
As Jorge put it, “[ETER9] proposes an interesting concept of digital immortality, promising to be the elixir of eternity for its users. [The platform] is a form of social interaction for the new generation, where it’s possible to establish connections with both human users and virtual beings [Counterparts]. I can create a New Reality where the impossible can happen and eternity is within reach.”
“So now must I become a ghost, to sit with the ghosts of the dead, to see my dear brother nevermore!”
So what does having a social platform that acts in our stead, even after we die, relate to in practical terms? Does this mean that when our loved ones are gone, in lieu of a memorial website, there will be a platform in which you can still send them a shout out and “they” will poke you back?
For Gilgamesh, the realization of the permanence of death didn’t really sink in until he saw a worm fall out of the nose of his best friend’s rotting corpse.
For us, death is still permanent, but our understanding of what is life, and more specifically, consciousness, is getting stranger and stranger every time a new theory on quantum physics is revealed, such as how living things can be in two places at once. If that’s true, what does it say about consciousness if it is not localized in one specific place in space and time (i.e. your brain)?
“Life, which you look for, you will never find.”
Artificial consciousness is in itself a difficult concept because we still don’t know how consciousness actually works.
One theory proposed by Nassim Haramein, Director of Research at The Resonance Project, likens consciousness to radio signal, “Looking for consciousness in the brain is like looking inside a radio for the announcer.”
Another theory along a similar thread comes from Hans-Peter Durr, former head of the Max Planck Institute of Physics. According to Durr, “The brain is the tangible ‘floppy disk’ on which we save our data [consciousness], and this data is then ‘uploaded’ into the spiritual quantum field.” That is — consciousness may live on after death in a quantum or spiritual aether.
The idea that consciousness is neither created nor stored in our bodies, but is rather more like a signal coming from elsewhere is an indication that there may be some type of unified field that exists in which our consciousness is shared, and our physical bodies are merely vessels for receiving this information. According to this logic, when we die and our bodies cease to function, our consciousness would continue somewhere in this field.
The future of Artificial Intelligence may be tapping into this “field” in which physical locality is not necessary for a digital consciousness to exist.
“Dense was the darkness, light there was none.”
This does not mean, however, that consciousness is being created by AI. At this stage of the game, the technology we have at present is not as complex nor effective as the billions of strands of double-helical DNA we possess in our own bodies.
AI is still in its dark infancy; however, those at the cutting edge of technology have expressed their concerns about the potential dangers of future machines that mimic humans.
In an AMA with Reddit early this year, Bill Gates wrote, “I am in the camp that is concerned about super intelligence. First, the machines will do a lot of jobs for us and not be super intelligent. That should be positive if we manage it well. A few decades after that though, the intelligence is strong enough to be a concern. I agree with Elon Musk and some others on this and don’t understand why some people are not concerned.”
“Let full be thy belly, make thou merry day and night! On each day make thou a feast of rejoicing, day and night dance thou and play!”
Just as Gilgamesh scoured the underworld in search of everlasting life, he was met with disappointment and told by the pre-Biblical prototype of Noah, Utnapishtim, basically, “Carpe Diem.” That is, take advantage of life’s daily mysteries and enjoy each day because we are all going to die anyway (us mortals that is).
That classic sentiment still rings true, however, with AI and its social media applications in its infancy, we may just be inching a little closer towards digital immortality.