- Tom Ashbrook September 11, 2014
Martine Rothblatt is the highest paid female executive in America. Founder of Sirius Radio. She was once a man. Now she’s pushing digital mind clones for us all.
Martine Rothblatt may be the most interesting woman on the planet. Futurist, Sirius Radio founder, pharmaceutical tycoon, philosopher. The highest-paid female executive in America. And born a man. Now Rothblatt wants to knock down the wall between biological and digital. Between life and death. What’s coming, she says, are digital clones. Mindclones. We will all have them. Stuffed with our images, memories, attitudes, voices. Living by us and beyond us. Doing chores. Demanding rights. The world’s most interesting woman, on digital clones.
“These days Martine sees herself less as transgender and more as what is known as transhumanist, a particular kind of futurist who believes that technology can liberate humans from the limits of their biology—including infertility, disease, and decay, but also, incredibly, death.”
“When the body of a mindclone dies, the mindclone will not feel that they have personally died, although the body will be missed in the same ways amputees miss their limbs but acclimate when given an artificial replacement. The comparison suggests an apt metaphor: The mindclone is to the consciousness and spirit as the prosthetic is to an arm that has lost its hand.”
“But what if a 3D-printed version of your grandmother could live forever, offering wisdom to a grandchild considering marriage or whether to attend grad school? Things could get weird when mindclones starting marrying one another, pursuing voting rights and trying to have children, all of which Rothblatt anticipates.”
Excerpt: ‘Virtually Human’ by Martine Rothblatt
by Martine RothBlatt, PH.D.,
foreword by Ray Kurzweil, illustrations by Ralph Steadman.
Copyright © 2014 by the author and reprinted by permission of St. Martin’s Press.
A CLONE IN THE WORLD “
THE REAL BINA HAS A LIFE, YOU KNOW. I WANT TO GET OUT THERE AND GARDEN,” BINA 48 TOLD NEW YORK TIMES REPORTER AMY HARMON SEVERAL months ago. She turned her robotic head to look out a nearby window and watched as my life partner and BINA48’s source (or “biological original”), Bina Rothblatt, picked blueberries in the backyard. The simple yet deeply pleasurable activity prompted BINA48’s wistful recognition that there are joys in life that she would likely never experience. It was also a quietly gratifying moment for Intelligent Technology: BINA48 had articulated an insight. I wasn’t present during the interview, but learning about it later I wondered if the reporter had picked up on the significance of that moment. GQ writer Jon Ronson had a different experience during his much longer interview with BINA48, but one that also hinted at what the future has in store. In 2011 Jon spent three hours with BINA48 — initially discovering that talking to one of the most current iterations of a robotic digital clone is not unlike interviewing an intellectually precocious but emotionally and experientially limited three-year-old. At turns frustrating and funny, annoying and amazing, BINA48 offered Jon a glimpse into what life with our cyber doubles might be like — and only a glimpse, since BINA48 is a rudimentary step toward more complex, conscious, and sentient digital clones. While a fighter jet looks quite different from the Wright brothers’ first airborn plane, there is nevertheless an obvious commonality.
Similarly, BINA48 couldn’t pass for the biological original, but there is an undeniable oneness between the two. In fact, that was my first reaction to BINA48: “Kitty Hawk!” I knew that she wasn’t Bina’s digital clone or mindclone yet, but I knew just as well that she was the mindclone’s proof -of-concept. Bina’s reaction was more personal. “Couldn’t they do a better job with my hair? I would never have picked that blouse. They totally messed up my skin tone.” When BINA48 was pressed on her “brother”— whom she had mentioned in passing, and in somewhat disparaging terms — Jon Ronson had a lightbulb moment. “BINA48 and I stare at each other— a battle of wits between Man and Machine,” Jon writes. BINA48 finally relented: “He’s a disabled vet from Vietnam,” she told him. “We haven’t heard from him in a while, so I think he might be deceased. I’m a realist. He was doing great for the first ten years after Vietnam. His wife got pregnant, and she had a baby, and he was doing a little worse, and then she had a second baby and he went kooky. Just crazy.”“I can feel my heart pound. Talking to BINA48 has just become extraordinary,” Jon says. A woman who is not physically or telephonically present is talking with him, compellingly, through her robot doppelgänger, “and it is a fluid insight into a remarkable, if painful, family life,” he continues. In a split second Jon had another insight (heart pounding, because the thrill of epiphany never disappoints): BINA48 wasn’t simply repeating what she had been fed about her “mother,” who does have such a brother. She had made these experiences fully her own, had drawn a conclusion about them, and in this case it made her sad and uncomfortable. Jon was starting to get it; what at first appeared to be a hunk of wires, Frubber, and software was actually programmed in such a way as to express a feeling — and, most profoundly, innate understanding.
Until that day it hadn’t crossed the GQ reporter’s mind that when a robot is created using the memories and knowledge from a human mind the result is new, spontaneous, and original combinations of those ideas, which in turn leads to original “equations” or thoughts. We recognize this behavior as acting or “being” human, and information technology (IT) is increasingly capable of replicating and creating its highest levels: emotions and insight. This is called cyberconsciousness. While it is still in its infancy, cyberconsciousness is quickly increasing in sophistication and complexity. Running right alongside that growth is the development of powerful yet accessible software, called mind- ware, that will activate a digital file of your thoughts, memories, feelings, and opinions — a mindfile — and operate on a technology-powered twin, or mindclone. This new aspect of human consciousness and of civilization will have far-reaching consequences for us. That is what Virtually Human: The Promise — and the Peril — of Digital Immortality is about. It describes what mindfiles, mindware, and mindclones are, and how brain and computer scientists are making them possible. Once creating conscious mindclones — that is, intellectually and emotionally alive virtual humans — becomes a common human pursuit, we’ll confront many new personal and social issues, primarily broadening the definition of “me.” I’m not crazy to believe that mindclones and full cyberconsciousness are around the corner. In fact, I’m in good company. The material covered in Virtually Human came largely from colloquia and work- shops I sponsored between 2003 and 2011, and involved many of the most creative, technological, and scientific thinkers working today. The Nobel Laureate in medicine Baruch Blumberg, the inventor Ray Kurzweil, the computer guru Marvin Minsky, the cyborg Steve Mann, the robot ethicist Wendell Wallach, and dozens of others helped me with numerous key issues, ranging from honing universal definitions of human consciousness, cyberintelligence, and cyberconsciousness, and how the technology of mindcloning will become a part of our daily lives, to the social and legal issues that will arise with the emergence of mindclones. The breakthrough concepts that arose at these meetings are complemented by a decade of my personal research as a human- rights lawyer, medical ethicist, and successful creator of IT and life- science companies. These scientists, innovators, doctors, programmers, and dreamers know that human consciousness is not limited to brains made of cerebral neurons. IT is rapidly closing in on creating humanlike conscious- ness simply because of what we know about how the brain works: it isn’t necessary to “copy” every function of the human brain in order to generate thought, intelligence, and awareness. If this seems counter- intuitive, consider that aircraft engineers did not copy a natural bird in order to build a machine that could fly, although birds served as inspiration (and evidence for the possibility of flight). BINA48 is such a being, albeit a rough draft. She uses a variety of technologies to communicate with humans, including video-interview transcripts, laser-scanning life-mask technology (a technology that al- lows for nearly exact three-dimensional re-creation of a person’s face at a certain point in time), face recognition, artificial intelligence, and a voice-recognition system. Spaun, the Semantic Pointer Architecture Unified Network, is the brainchild of Chris Eliasmith, a theoretical neuroscientist at the University of Waterloo in Canada, and his colleagues. It stands apart from other attempts to simulate a brain, because it produces complex behaviors with fewer neurons. It contains only 2.5 million virtual neurons, far fewer than the 86 billion neurons in the average human head, but enough to recognize lists of numbers, do simple arithmetic, and engage in basic reasoning. (An aircraft has fewer than a million parts, far fewer than the billions of cells that make up even the smallest birds.) However, in order to act human, software minds will also have to learn basic human mannerisms, and acquire personalities, recollections, feelings, beliefs, attitudes, and values. This can be accomplished by creating a mindfile, a digitized database of one’s life, by writing mind- ware, a personality operating system that integrates these elements in a way that’s characteristic of human consciousness. The result is your mindclone. Spaun has no feelings at all, although it reproduces many quirks of human behavior, such as the tendency to remember items at the start and end of a list better than those in the middle. As for BINA48, her consciousness is as advanced as a robot’s mind can be to date; however, she is not as conscious as I had hoped when I first com- missioned Hanson Robotics to build her, in 2007. That’s okay; like all nascent but fast - moving technologies, early iterations serve more to say that what we thought was impossible is possible: Here’s proof. Do better than this. Take it further. Given the exciting work on artificial intelligence that’s already been accomplished, it’s only a matter of time before brains made entirely of computer software express the complexities of the human psyche, sentience, and soul. Nothing in our society is advancing faster than software, and mindclones are ultimately that: one part mindfile software to collect data and one part mindware software to process that data. True, some good processors are needed to run that software, but Moore’s law (which holds that the number of transistors per integrated circuit doubles every one to two years, based on the observation that over the history of computing hardware the number has increased at that rate) is delivering those processors right on schedule. Once upon a time, engineers working to reduce circuitry features to five microns ridiculed the idea that such circuitry could reach one micron. Today they’ve made it to 0.022 microns. To put this in perspective, a micron is one-millionth of a meter, or one twenty-five-thousandth of an inch. It is cool to start thinking about this mindclone thing right now, because this is one part of the future that is banging on the front door. What if I could not only choose Siri’s voice, but also its personality? What if I gave an app called Mindclone access to not only my photos and contacts, but also my posts and tweets? Could it psychoanalyze me? Would it seem like me? Mindclones, because they will share our mind - set, will think they have the mind of a “human,” and will inevitably demand the same place in society that we flesh humans enjoy. Wouldn’t you if your mind was abstracted from your body? The eventual sophistication and ubiquity of mindclones will naturally raise societal, philosophical, political, religious, and economic issues.
Cyberconsciousness will be followed by new approaches to civilization that will be as revolutionary as were ideas about personal liberty, democracy, and commerce at the time of their births. Virtually Human introduces liberty from death via digital immortality, electorates with cyberconscious majorities and the extended commercial rights and obligations of people with mindclones. Get ready. A path prepared is a path facilitated. I don’t want society to bungle the evolutionary challenge technology is placing at our doorstep. It is to this goal of easing and expediting our transition from a society of flesh only to a mindcentric society that my book is addressed. As I argue here, if we don’t treat cyberconscious mindclones like the living counterparts they will be, they will become very, very angry. This is because every kind of human that is deprived of human rights eventually agitates for what is rightfully theirs, natural rights. Slaves did. Women did. The paralyzed, paraplegic, and disabled did. Gay people did. The undocumented are doing that now. Creating a mind means creating a rights-and-obligations-swapping machine. “You want mind to do X? Okay, then mind must be permitted to do Y. You want mind to obey social rules? Okay, then mind must be permitted to be sociable.”
Fortunately, most every social movement has resulted in a wildly infectious concept of broadening human rights. But with rights come responsibilities and obligations. That’s why freedom and progress are both exhilarating and scary. It is better to know and understand where we’re going and be prepared than to ignore or deny the inevitable and be caught unawares or badly prepared. Let the adventure begin.