Stanley Bing: 'Digital Immortality Could Happen In 20-25 Years'
Imagine a world where you can live forever. Author Stanley Bing doesn't think that world is too far away. Bing's new book "Immortal Life," explores the scientific and technological search for digital immortality. The longtime business columnist and author doesn't call his writing science fiction, but instead speculative fiction. The book cover features the words "a soon to be true story" and Bing sees people today in Silicon Valley laying the groundwork for a society where you can download your consciousness into a younger body.
Bing chatted with CBS Local's DJ Sixsmith about his roots as a writer, how he wrote "Immortal Life" and why your brain is like a hard drive.
DJ Sixsmith: What are your earliest memories as a writer?
Stanley Bing: When I was a kid, I used to write stories based on the things that I had read at the time. That meant mostly animals killing each other, which was my big thing. I really loved the tiger coming out of the forest, then it saw the wildebeest and tore its throat out. That was pretty much what I was writing about at the time. Then when I was a teenager, I wrote a lot of moody poetry about how love is terrible and breaks your heart. When I got into business, I began to write about the workplace and how it affects businesses and organizations and what it's like to work for a living. I've been doing that for quite some time. During that time, I've written some novels while I was working on my columns as Stanley Bing.
DS: Who are some writers that have inspired you over the years?
SB: From an early age, I really loved "Winnie The Pooh" and good stories like that. The person that really made me think that it was romantic and wonderful to be a writer was Jack London. Here we go again, the dogs are tearing out the throats of the wildebeests. I loved "The Call Of The Wild" and I know London is a little bit out of favor now with some views that weren't completely of the 21st century, but I did love Jack London a lot. I loved "Moby Dick" and adventure stories and that is why my new book "Immortal Life" is an adventure story. I wanted it to move at a fast clip, so that people would have the ability to steam through it and wonder what will happen in the next chapter.
DS: How did you come up with your pen name Stanley Bing?
SB: I knew a guy in the workplace at the time whose name was Bing. I always felt it sounded like a sound effect, so I thought that was good. Obviously, other people agreed because Microsoft stole my name for a search engine. I've been Stanley Bing for a long time. I also wrote a play with a character named Stanley Bing in it. The character was cut out of the play and that was exactly around the time I began writing for Esquire. I took the name, used it and it has been good to me.
DS: Why did you want to write "Immortal Life?"
SB: This is a book about the scientific technological search for digital immortality. This is something that is being worked on right now. The central idea is that the brain is a computer. If you figure out a way to back up that computer, the way you would back up your hard drive right now, you would mirror that hard drive and then have a copy of a person – the person's entire consciousness. Once you have that, then you have what's called digital immortality. There are people from Oxford University and in Silicon Valley that believe this is the beginning of the efforts to live forever. We're a culture that believes that technology can do anything. If you can invent it, you should invent it. That's the premise of this book and I think it can exist in 20-25 years.
DS: What fascinates you the most when it comes to all of the technological advancements that have been made?
SB: What fascinates me is the question of whether humanity as we know it, the ability to think, feel and exist as a person, will exist if we continue to digitize experience. That to me is the central issue of the book. It's about immortality and the things that technology can do. The question is also what will happen to people. Will there be human beings the way that we understand human beings in the future, if we continue to create virtual experience at the expense of actual experience?
DS: What would you do if you had digital immortality?
SB: I'd do it definitely, I don't care. If I had to be a house plant sitting by the window for a few hundred years, I'd do it. I don't want to go anywhere. That's the immense drive of the scientists who are working on this now. Nobody really wants to die. There's philosophical questions about it and people who say it would rob existence of meaning if there was no death.
DS: There are many layers to this conversation. What do you want the conversation to be when people finish reading your book?
SB: I'd like them to say it was a really great read and I'm going to recommend it to a bunch of people who like an exciting, thought-provoking and amusing story. I'd also like them to ask, "When's it going to be made into a movie?"
"Immortal Life" was published by Simon & Schuster, a sister company of CBS. Stanley Bing is the pen name of Gil Schwartz, the Senior Executive VP and Chief Communications Officer for CBS Corporation.
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