Like my religious friends, I too would like to live forever. The thought of there being an end to my learning–a point at which my lifelong tool sharpening goes to waste–is not a happy one. Here’s the only way I can see it happening (and I don’t think it’s too farfetched, either).
We simply have to make it far enough into the future to be able to map our brains–to some acceptable degree–into digital form, which could then roam the world virtually, interacting and growing as it goes. I have roughly 50-70 years (depending on how good science is at extending life) for this to become possible.
Something like this would provide a relatively smooth transition for those about to pass. You spend the 50K (or whatever it costs), go into the lab/company that’s going to do it, and spend the next day or week getting scanned.
You could then spend time with your digital self, confirming that it feels like “you”. Ask yourself questions, see what you find humorous, see what you find attractive, etc. You’ll also spend time customizing your new appearance–which is how you’ll be viewed in the various real virtual worlds you’ll interact in, e.g. dating sites, etc.
After some period of tuning and optimizing you’ll declare this entity to be enough like you that you won’t feel as if you’re truly dying. At that point, you, and hopefully your partner, will have a great meal and lay together in your bed to sleep–never to wake–which will be much easier to do when you know that some significant part of you remains behind.
You can even have one of your partner back there in the virtual world as well–both of your remaining eternally together to explore the world.
Some will say that this would be a hollow existence, with no capacity to experience simple tactile pleasures, such as holding hands, or drinking coffee. But I disagree. I think that since all those senses are ultimately chemical in nature, they too can be emulated in the virtual world.
This, of course, presents a myriad of issues. If it’s all digital, that means someone is controlling the pleasure and pain each avatar receives. There essentially has to be central management of the experiences being pumped into each persons’ interfaces, and that responsibility (and power) is nothing less than godlike.
Still. This is, without any doubt in my mind, an eventuality. It will happen. Not just so people can escape death, but also so people can become different things. People will have presences in the other world long before they physically die, in fact. And they’ll be coaching them along and growing them their whole lives.
So when it comes time to die, you accept physical death a lot more readily because–in many ways–you’re actually more alive online than you were physically. You’ve done more things there. You’ve met more people there. You’ve been the person you wanted to be.
I’m not sure 50 years will be enough time to see this happen, but I can hope. ::