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To Mindfile-Me, or Not to Mindfile-Me?
Jønathan Lyons   Sep 7, 2012   Ethical Technology  

Being a transhumanist parent has some unique challenges, for example…what if I die before I’m able to join the uploaded? Should I contact “LifeNaut” immediately?

I wrote about that a bit in an earlier essay, wherein I had an imaginary conversation with my infant son on my plans for not dying. One of the contingency plans for one’s mortality that anyone can begin to embrace today, right now, at no cost, is the creation of a mindfile-based avatar. A mindfile can be one of several technologies, but the one I’m talking about is a technological doppelgänger one oneself that is filled with information about the original person from such sources as photos, videos, audio recordings, biographical information, and so on.

(A note: As often happens when I discuss issues from off the beaten technological path with my wife, I begin with one position, and end in an entirely different place. This subject was no exception. So if you’d like to skip my concerns and hesitations to see what I’ve actually decided, skip down to the heading, “And Then I Talked it Over With My Wife.”)

I found myself skeptical of this particular mindfile process as a means of living on; it seems clear to me that the being who would come after me, whether technological, biological, or some combination thereof, while possessing a great deal of knowledge of my life, what I’d done and sounded like and how I moved, would have no sense of continuity with me. Instead of me living on in any literal sense, the I who I am would die, and the new being, provided ze is ever created and functions as expected, would not be me; ze would be more like a combination of clone and a person with multiple doctorates on the subject of me.

In the SyFy Channel’s Battlestar Galactica (BSG) spinoff, Caprica, which is set 50 years before BSG, a human character named Zoe Graystone creates just such a super-avatar of herself. The new Zoe is dubbed Zoe-A; ze lives on continues zir existence in the series’ VR world after Zoe is killed. After Zoe’s death, her father, Daniel, meets Zoe-A:

Video: Daniel meets Zoe-A - his daughter’s super-avatar - in the SyFy TV series “Caprica”

Zoe-A knows that ze isn’t the original Zoe, but that ze thinks of zirself as Zoe. Ze even greets Daniel with “Hi daddy.” This super-avatar also fires off a long list of sources of personal information that the original has poured into zir: medical scans, DNA profiles, psych evaluations, school records, e-mails, CAT scans, genetic typing, synaptic records, security videos, traffic tickets, and so on.

It’s an impressive, compelling performance on the part of Zoe-A. So I’ve been wondering: As I make my plans for not dying (or not permanently, anyway - not if I can help it), and planning for what takes place if I should manage to die before I’m able to join the uploaded, what’s my Plan B for me, my wife, and and my son? What options do I have?

If I cannot be here, do I want some sort of next best thing to remain for my loved ones? Do I create a mindfile avatar to leave behind on this mortal coil?

Lifenaut is the group that offers the mindfile service I mentioned - the one that I know of. They have a committed following of people who are creating, maintaining, and updating their own mindfiles. Here’s what Lifenaut has to say about their mindfile process, from their Website:

How it Works

Upload biographical pictures, videos, and documents to a digital archive that will be preserved for generations.

Organize through geo mapping, timelines, and tagging, a rich portrait of information about you. The places you’ve been and the people you’‘

And Then I Talked it Over With My Wife

What if you don’t think of it as a backup of you? she said. What if you think of it as a sort of multimedia scrapbook about you?


This I had not considered, and I had to pause to give it some thought. It’s a brilliant turn on the mindfile avatar, actually; me, I was stuck thinking of it in the terms that it had been presented to me. Which is one of the ways that such discussions with my partner can be deeply rewarding: She can bring an intelligent and unique point of view to an issue.

A multimedia scrapbook? Filled with recordings of my voice, my c.v., my written works, my history? Now that struck me as something I could get on-board with - something amazing that I could create for my son and my wife as a keepsake. This type of mindfile avatar would not be me, as far as I’m concerned, but a virtual remembrance. An online place to experience some of what I am (or was) and have done.

So I’m sold. I plan to start creating a mindfile avatar soon, and to add to it here and there, now and then, as time and inclination allow. With luck, I’ll never have to use it as a multimedia memorial.

Jønathan Lyons is an affiliate scholar for the IEET. He is also a transhumanist parent, an essayist, and an author of experimental fiction both long and short. He lives in central Pennsylvania and teaches at Bucknell University. His fiction publications include Minnows: A Shattered Novel.

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