October 19, 2021

I, Science

The science magazine of Imperial College

The company xHumed imagines digitally resurrecting great minds from the past to help us solve current problems ...


Digital resurrection is the replication of a person’s neuronal network onto a hard disk so their personality and memories are preserved. Although the technology doesn’t yet make this possible, xHumed use the idea to imagine how some of the cleverest brains of all time would react in today’s world if their minds could be digitally resurrected from their DNA and media reports of their behaviour.

Jason Jones-Hall is the company’s Digital Director. “We look at everything: from the technology required, to the ethics and philosophy behind it, and the cultural, sociological and psychological significance of it. Digital resurrection is the underlying theme of all xHumed’s work.

At a recent show in the Library of Birmingham, the largest library in Western Europe, the historical figures Mary Shelley and HG Wells were recreated alongside luminaries connected to Birmingham, including Erasmus Darwin, Matthew Boulton and Joseph Priestly. Each dead historical figure was resurrected in some creative way and then delivered a five or six minute ‘speech’. Afterwards, a contemporary expert gave a TED-style ten minute talk that connected the ideas of the historical figure with the issues of today.

“Mary Shelley was a really interesting one,” said Jason. “For looking at the implications of what might happen if we can essentially upload our memories or our consciousness to a cloud somewhere and then retrieve it and exhume ourselves – digitally exhume ourselves.”

With the Frankenstein connection, Shelley was the obvious choice for exploring this technology issue. She was recreated through a combination of digital art and projection mapping onto a mannequin, then read a passage from Frankenstein relating to the moral and ethical implications of raising the dead. It was followed by the (living) science writer Jon Turney, author of Frankenstein’s Footsteps, who picked up the theme and delivered a talk on the science behind digital and biological resurrection, including cryogenics and memory uploads.

The 18th century physician and inventor Erasmus Darwin described a machine for recreating the human voice, and his talk was paired with Christophe Veaux from Edinburgh University, who is working on the Voicebank project to recreate personalised voices.

The great manufacturer Matthew Boulton was paired with Nick Allen, the founder of 3D Print manufacturing company Mak3d. For Boulton’s resurrection, a statue of him was 3D printed and then animated in a six minute video by Digital Artist Jessy Wang.

Jason’s favourite resurrection is HG Wells, because of the accuracy of his predictions. “We’ve got HG Wells talking through his writings on the ‘world brain’, which is essentially describing the internet,” he said. “The only words we substitute in the text are the words ‘world brain’ for ‘the internet’. It’s striking how prescient he was.”

More performances are planned for 2014, including the Speakers-In-A-Box idea, where these historical icons are booked to speak at events or conferences. The new project fits into the concept of Dead Good Thinking, which Jason feels is central to all xHumed’s work because it recognises how brilliant minds of the past still influence and help us today. “It’s about teasing out the contemporary relevance of past figures. The technology may have moved on, but many of the key principles they identified are still almost identical.”