Corey S. Powell in MACH:
Every day, it seems, our lives become a bit less tangible. We’ve grown accustomed to photos, music and movies as things that exist only in digital form. But death? Strange as it sounds, the human corpse could be the next physical object to vanish from our lives. Within a couple of decades, visiting deceased friends and relatives by traveling to a grassy gravesite may seem as quaint as popping a videotape into your VHS player. By then, our whole experience of death may be drastically different. If you believe Ray Kurzweil, an outspoken futurist and the director of engineering at Google, computers will soon match the capabilities of the human brain. At that point, our consciousness will become intimately mingled with machine intelligence, leading to a kind of immortality.
“We’re going to become increasingly non-biological, to the point where the biological part isn’t that important anymore,” Kurzweil declared in 2013 at a conference predicting the world of 2045. “Even if the biological part went away, it wouldn’t make any difference.” But you don’t need to take such speculative leaps to see that the way we deal with death is already in the midst of a wrenching transformation. In 2015, for the first time ever, more people in the U.S. were cremated than buried, according to the National Funeral Director’s Association. Crowded urban cemeteries, along with a new eco-friendly cremation method known as alkaline hydrolysis, promise to continue the trend. By 2030, the association predicts, less than one-quarter of the dead will receive traditional casket burials. The rest will end up…well, that’s the question.