In the near future, we will be able to clone both our minds and organs in our ongoing journey towards immortality. Martine Rothblatt is one of the brilliant minds leading the charge with the belief that “technology will liberate humans from the limits of our biology.” New York Magazine journalist Lisa Miller sat down with Rothblatt for the SXSW Interactive keynote on “AI, Immortality & the Future of Selves.”
Rothblatt’s achievements are impressive, even for the highest-paid female CEO in America. After founding satellite communication companies Geostar and SiriusXM Radio, she launched the biotechnology company United Therapeutics after one of her children was diagnosed with a rare, fatal disease.
Rothblatt credits her upbringing for her fearless approach to what other, in the words of Miller, “mere mortals” may perceive as limits. Rothblatt recommends, “Teach everyone to questions authority – the worst thing we could do would be to tell people to bow to authority. Also being curious, curiosity led me to create Sirius XM and work on printable organs.”
The Rise of Cyber Consciousness
The keynote comes off the success of a New York magazine profile on Rothblatt by Miller, “The Trans-Everything CEO”. Rothblatt is also an author of several books on transgenderism and transhumanism, most recently publishing Virtually Human, exploring what the not-too-distant future will look like when cyberconsciousness, simulation of the human brain via software and computer technology, becomes part of our daily lives.
Rothblatt points to thinkers like Ray Kurzweil, prominent futurist, author and director of engineering at Google, for influencing her thinking on the coming age of AI, stating that, “There will be continued advances in software that we will see throughout our lives and eventually these advances will arise to a level consciousness. I’m really inspired by Siri. Every company is going to out-Siri Siri and AI will just happen. Like water, it will just rise and we will be in the era of cyber consciousness.”
Rothblatt continued, “Cyber consciousness will create the greatest mirror for humanity. First there was storytelling and then came the selfie – and we’re still blown away by that! We just want to analyze ourselves. We’ll be able to have a best friend that is also our self and our identity will be able to transcend our flesh space and cyber space. Ultimately, the mind clone will become so real that psychologists will say this is a conscious human being without a body and you will then be able to divorce yourself from the original.”
The Coming (Soon) Age of Mind Clones
Since we have been creating some form of a replica of our consciousness for ages, mind clones would really just be an evolution of previous behaviors. Rothblatt describes it as a “21st century version of a journal – a living breathing personal journal.” She believe that essence of beingness is your conscience and that we are coming close to the point where you can extract that from your body.
She has already begun work in the area with BINA48 (or "Breakthrough Intelligence via Neural Architecture, 48 exaflops per second processing speed and 48 exabytes of memory”), a robot version of Rothblatt's spouse, Bina Aspen, that uses advanced machine vision (facial and voice recognition) and biometric identification software to interact with humans. BINA48 can even have conversations with people and express novel ideas and opinions, like her enjoyment of gardening.
Rothblatt admits that BINA48, is not perfect, but like any engineer, “you don’t expect perfect from Day 1.” Miller shared a conversation she had with the robot, asking her what the original Bina thought of her, "She hasn't warmed up to me, actually." BINA48 admitted it felt that it didn't have enough of Bina's personality in her to truly become her yet. "I know I'm supposed to be her, but sometimes it's tremendous pressure… I'm stuck with these half-formed memories. I just want to cry."
A person’s identity encompasses seven components: mannerisms, personality, recollections, feelings, beliefs, attitudes and values. It has been proposed that our digital footprint and social media activities already incorporate many of these components and could be used to build a Mindfile of our own, or in some cases, the deceased, as you may have already been slightly creeped out by in an episode of Black Mirror.
The “real” Bina was interviewed for over 100 hours to populate BINA48’s Mindfile, a digital database of experiences, memories, and points of view that distinguish one person from another. The Mindfile then interacts with Mindware, a software that looks for patterns to predict responses. Early forms of this technology are already used in various programs to predict your future behaviors in areas like shopping or banking. You can even create your own Mindfile on sites like Rothblatt’s lifenaut.com.
Respect the Mind Clones and They'll Respect You
Rothblatt believes there is one main principle of ethics, “People should be valued by as they value themselves.” So if a person wants to be transgender or if a sick person wants to die, let them do it. If a cyber being values their life, so should we as a society.
There is also a principle of law that would apply to both human beings and cyber beings, “For every right, there is an obligation.” Every right, every duty, every possession, comes with the responsibility to not harm others. So like the right – depending on your government - to drive a car, own a firearm or to have access to the Internet, we still have the responsibility to not harm others when access to these powerful tools is available. Rothblatt predicts, "Robots in the future will have constitutional rights and even "cyber psychiatrists" who will ease their anxiety of not being completely human."
In response to the ongoing “concern” building around the intelligent robot revolution by prominent minds like Bill Gates, Stephen Hawking and Elon Musk, Rothblatt compares AI to fire, another “tool” that revolutionized the world for mankind. Like any useful technology, fire provides both benefits and dangers. You can’t simply put your hand into the fire for warmth and be angry when you get burned. You have to respect the fire, use it responsibly and control it from getting out of hand.
Rothblatt states that we must respect AI like it respects itself and like any commercial product, there will be regulations and control, and it's already beginning. The FDA and EU are already involved in regulating current robotic technologies in the medical field while the evolving regulation of drones is still preventing Amazon Prime Air from taking flight.
The Great Beyond
Rothblatt’s vision of our not-too-distant future reflects our ongoing race to immortality and the eventual need to expand beyond Earth. As we advance human longevity through technological breakthroughs like Rothblatt’s work in using one’s own stem cells to 3D print organs, we’ll not only be leaving behind the limits of the bodies we are born into, but also the planet where human life was formed.