Digital (Im)mortality: Philosophy, Ethics and Design is a conference hosted by the Leverhulme Centre for the Future of Intelligence at the University of Cambridge, and taking place entirely online.
Conference Theme Overview
The development of digital technologies has led to an explosion of interest in radical life-extension and immortalisation strategies; strategies that are in turn spurring philosophical and social movements, artistic interventions, marketing promises and industry investment. Understanding these developments demands new interdisciplinary dialogues. The aim of this conference is therefore to explore novel ideas, frameworks, and theories of digital life-extension and immortalisation strategies, alongside the practical, legal, and ethical challenges that they pose.
For modes of immortality to be meaningful they must relate to the particular kinds of experience characteristic of a given historical period (Lifton and Olson 1974: 95). In the digital era, these particularities are that our lifeworlds have become programmable, editable, personalised, interactive, immersive and easily accessible. However, they have also become private, determined by market values, ethically precarious, and legally complex. These particularities shape the ways in which we have become ‘immortable’ in the digital era. Our aim is to better understand these particularities, and the technologies and technological imaginaries they have given rise to. We are interested in a wide variety of critical approaches that enable us to better understand and navigate this new terrain.
The conference is divided into three parts which provide the conceptual framework of our discussion: (1) philosophy of digital immortality, where we examine new concepts, theories and ideas to describe and analyse the emerging phenomenon of digital life-extension and immortality; (2) design for immortality, where we explore more diverse and creative ways of conceptualising the impact of digital technologies on our ideas of human lifespans and legacies, and lastly; (3) law and ethics of digital immortality, in which we confront these ideas with their (potential) legal and ethical challenges and solutions, especially in terms of issues such as postmortal privacy, access, control, and identity.
We aim to create a space for meaningful and cutting-edge discussion, bringing together thinkers, artists, lawyers, and practitioners to investigate (im)mortality in the digital age.
Maggi Savin-Baden – Professor of Higher Education Research at the University of Worcester. She has a strong publication record of over 60 research publications and 19 books that reflect her research interests in innovative learning, digital fluency, virtual humans, cyber-influence, and qualitative research methods. Her latest books are AI for Death and Dying (2021) and Digital Afterlife: Death Matters in a Digital Age (co-edited with Victoria Mason-Robbie, 2020).
Patrick Stokes – Associate Professor of Philosophy at Deakin University in Melbourne, Australia. Contributor to New Philosopher, The Conversation, ABC Radio Melbourne, Radio National. His work sits at the intersections of the Continental and Analytic traditions, with research interests in personal identity, narrative selfhood, moral psychology, death, remembrance, and philosophy of religion. His latest book is entitled Digital Souls: A Philosophy of Online Death (2021).
Davide Sisto – a philosopher and a researcher in theoretical philosophy at the University of Turin. He is an expert in thanatechnology, the study of death from a philosophical perspective, and in relation to medicine, digital culture, and the posthuman. In addition to numerous essays in national and international journals, he has recently published two books Online Afterlives. Immortality, Memory, and Grief in Digital Culture (2020) and Remember Me. Memory and Forgetting in the Digital Age (2021).
Stacey Pitsillides – Vice Chancellor's Senior Research Fellow in Design at Northumbria University. She is a curator, experienced co-designer, and design researcher whose practice is grounded in breaking down hierarchies between designers, institutions and users. Her research interests include among others: social design and understanding how technology is reframing our notions of death & bereavement. She is the author of numerous articles about digital death, dying, memory, and mourning.
Mar Hwa Wei (Marlynn Wei) – is a Harvard and Yale-trained psychiatrist, psychotherapist, certified yoga teacher, interdisciplinary artist, and writer. She is the author of The Harvard Medical School Guide to Yoga and writes for Psychology Today and Harvard Health. Mar is a 2020 Pipeline Theatre Playspace artist to develop her immersive and interactive play Elixir: Digital Immortality (www.elixirforever.com). Inspired by her studies in philosophy, ethics, and aesthetics, her work focuses on questions of mortality, loss, memorialization, and digital and authentic identity.
Susan Silas – a visual artist working primarily in video, sculpture, and photography. Her work, through self-portraiture, examines the meaning of embodiment, the index in representation, and the evolution of our understanding of the self. She is interested in the aging body, gender roles, the fragility of a sentient being, and the potential outcome of the creation of idealized selves through biotechnology and artificial intelligence. Her latest work is the motion capture video entitled Eulogy (2020) which talks about the ambition of attaining digital immortality.
Michael Birnhack – Professor of Law at the Tel Aviv University. He researches, teaches and writes about intellectual property, privacy law, information law, and law and technology. Professor Birnhack was Associate Dean for Research until 2021, Director of the S. Horowitz Institute for IP, and director of the Parasol international LL.M Program. He served as a member of several public committees on privacy law and press de-regulation. He is a co-founder of ‘Privacy Israel’ (2020).
Tal Morse – completed his PhD studies at the Department of Media and Communications at The London School of Economics and Political Science. He teaches at the Department of Photographic Communication at Hadassah Academic College in Jerusalem. His academic interests include visual communication, media rituals, media ethics, and death studies. He is the author of numerous articles about death, dying and mourning. Among others, he is working (with professor Birnhac) on the the issue of posthumous privacy paradox.
Edina Harbinja – a senior lecturer in media/privacy law. Her principal areas of research and teaching are related to the legal issues surrounding the Internet and emerging technologies. She is a pioneer and a recognised expert in post-mortem privacy, i.e. privacy of the deceased individuals. She has published widely on aspects of internet law and regulation and has been a visiting scholar and an invited speaker to universities and conferences in the USA, Latin America and Europe.
Carl Öhman – an associate senior lecturer at the Department of government. He earned his PhD in September 2020 from the University of Oxford, under the supervision of Luciano Floridi. His research spans across several topics, including the politics and ethics of AI, deepfakes and digital remains, and has been covered by media outlets such as New York Times, BBC and TIME Magazine. In 2020 he was named the UK’s #1 early career researcher in the arts and humanities by Scopus/Elsevier.
Stephen Cave – Director of the Leverhulme Centre for the Future of Intelligence at the University of Cambridge, UK. His research focuses on philosophy of technology, in particular critical perspectives on AI, robotics and life-extension. His 2012 book Immortality was a New Scientist book of the year, and has been translated into many languages.
Katarzyna Nowaczyk-Basińska – PhD candidate, Adam Mickiewicz University, Poland, and Visiting Scholar, Leverhulme Centre for the Future of Intelligence, University of Cambridge, UK. She graduated from journalism, theater studies, and interactive media and performances. Her research intersects the fields of death studies, cultural studies, and new technologies. Currently, she leads the individual grant Immortality - Technocultural Strategies of Contemporary Times funded by the Polish National Science Center.
Friday, 19 November
Zoom Room Open: 10.30-10.50am (GMT)/11.30-11.50am (CET)
10.50-11.00am (GMT)/11.50-12.00am (CET)
Panel I: Law and Ethics of Digital Immortality
11am-12.30pm (GMT)/12-13.30pm (CET)
Speakers: Michael Birnhack, Tal Morse, Edina Harbinja, Carl Öhman
Chair: Stephen Cave
Panel II: Philosophy of Digital Immortality
1-2.30pm (GMT)/2-3.30pm (CET)
Speakers: Maggi Savin-Baden, Patrick Stokes, Davide Sisto
Chair: Stephen Cave
Panel III: Design for Digital Immortality
3-4.30pm (GMT)/4-5.30pm (CET)
Speakers: Stacey Pitsillides, Mar Hwa Wei, Susan Silas
Chair: Katarzyna Nowaczyk-Basińska
A recording of this workshop is available via LCFI YouTube Channel