Would you want your consciousness to live on, long after your physical body is exhausted? Or have a ‘mind clone’ sit in on meetings as you take the day off? Is that even possible?
Meet Bina48, the robot who can tell jokes, recite poetry and mimic humans. One of the most sophisticated robots ever built, capable of independent thought, emotion, Bina48 is modelled on Bina Aspen, wife of Martine Rothblatt — the CEO of biotech outfit United Therapeutics.
A vision of a future where we all have such “mind clones” is what futurist 60-year-old Rothblatt shared on March 15 with several thousand attendees during the third day of the annual tech festival South by Southwest (SXSW 2015) in Austin, Texas.
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How do you create a cyber-human?
The first step is creating what Rothblatt calls a “mind file” — a digital record that encapsulates your thoughts, mannerisms and more. And if you have a Facebook profile, says Rothblatt, your mind file is well underway.
How long did it take to create Bina48?
The flesh-and-blood Bina was interviewed for more than 20 hours, a conversation which touched upon topics throughout her childhood and her career. That conversation was then transcribed and uploaded to an artificial intelligence database.
Bina48’s hardware was created by robot designer David Hanson over the course of three years for $125,000. She has a “character engine” — software that tries its best to imbue her with a more cohesive view of the world, with logic and motive.
The “mind clone” has a head and torso that looks eerily like the real-life Bina. Her skin is made of a material called “frubber” that, with the help of 30 motors underneath it, allows her to frown, smile and look a bit confused.
What can Bina48 do? It, or rather she, can …
Bina48 has, in fact, even been interviewed by The New York Times. When asked by NYT, “What is it like to be a robot?”, she said, “Um, I have some thoughts on that. Even if I appear clueless, perhaps I’m not. You can see through the strange shadow self, my future self. The self in the future where I’m truly awakened. And so in a sense this robot, me, I am just a portal.”
When Bina’s mortal self dies, Rothblatt said the robot version of her wife will live on, making it possible for “our identity to begin to transcend our bodies”, truly making humans immortal.
Who is Rothblatt?
She is a transgender activist and a trans-humanist philosopher who believes technology will one day grant humans eternal life.
Recently, Forbes named her as the highest-paid female CEO in the US based on the $38 million she earns a year.
Her daughter’s rare lung disease is what spurred her to start United Therapeutics and develop an oral medication that changed the lives of thousands of patients.
Rothblatt is also working with Craig Venter, who helped sequence the human genome, to use organs from genetically-modified pigs for human organ transplants to create a never-ending supply.
Rothblatt founded a religion, the Terasem Movement, which puts together her cultural Judaism, Zen-like yoga and a deep belief in technology. One of the four founding beliefs: “Death is optional”.
She was the force behind SiriusXM radio, a worldwide satellite radio, and wrote the books Virtually Human and The Apartheid of Sex.
Virtually Human has been described by The Washington Post as “a big-think manifesto on the rights of yet-to-be-created cyber-humans, who might one day be uploaded with all of your thoughts, dreams, memories and online activity and live for eternity as a sort-of you”.
According to Rothblatt, robots in the future will have constitutional rights and “cyber psychiatrists” who will ease their anxiety about not being completely human.
We are living in a world where all of your life is captured. There is work going on at Amazon, Google, and Apple that is Mindware. It is software designed to process and recreate all of these inputs to create a consciousness.
Five other advanced robots
Made by Vecna Technologies, the Battlefield Extraction-Assist Robot (BEAR) is a rescue android. It can carry heavy objects, and has fire-resistant treads and batteries. Is capable of lifting up to 236 kg.
Made by Japanese company AIST, Miim was fashioned after an average young Japanese female. She stands at 5.2 ft, is 43 kg and has the ability to recognise faces, speech, and ambient noise. She can even dance.
Built by Rajesh Rao at the University of Washington, Morpheus has the ability to follow commands given as thoughts via a controller fitted with a swim cap filled with electrodes. Meant to provide companionship.
In July 2013, DARPA revealed Atlas, a six-foot tall robot with 28 hydraulic joints, arms, legs, head, torso and sensors. It can perform basic functions like walking, grabbing, turning, and giving visual feedback.