We are all subject to the human condition; we are vulnerable, emotional, and mortal. There is no escaping–at least not yet. Even so, technology is making great strides towards improving the way we live. The transhumanist movement aims to improve the human condition through developing technological immortality. The biotechnologist and entrepreneur Dr. Martine Rothblatt is one person leading the way in this revolutionary movement with her social robot Bina48.
Setting the Stage: Human Condition and Transhumanism
With every technological advancement, we find more ways to improve the human condition. As mortals, we are perpetually vulnerable. We suffer from a “consciousness-derived, psychological human condition… that is unique to us.” Yet, we hope that the more we learn and grow, the less we will suffer. Jeremy Griffith of the World Transformation Movement states that the human “predicament or ‘condition’” is truly a result of our inability to understand ourselves. Griffith describes how “the more we [try] to think about this obvious and most important question about human behavior and why it is so imperfect, the more depressed our thoughts [become].” We are left desperately trying to rationalize our imperfect behavior in order to avoid facing what we have yet to understand about ourselves.
In order to understand more about what makes us human, we must look at human nature as a “work in progress” and study the countless ways in which we can improve as individuals and as a society. Professor Nick Bostrom, among many other intellectuals, believes that if the transhumanist movement continues to grow, the human condition will be “profoundly alter[ed].” The philosopher Max More defines transhumanism as “a class of philosophies of life that seek the continuation and acceleration of the evolution of intelligent life beyond its currently human form… and limitations.” Transhumanism tackles challenges from disease and suffering to cultural development.
Dr. Rothblatt understands that if we want to improve the world, we cannot tackle our problems from just one angle; we must explore the fields of science and technology and see what solutions we can uncover. Although we have not discovered immortality, we have found ways in which we can immortalize our personalities and our thoughts. The Terasem Movement Foundation, cofounded by Rothblatt and her wife, Bina Aspen, is a private, nonprofit research foundation that aims to “re-animate a person’s consciousness.” Rothblatt hopes that this new technology will allow us to preserve our personalities and help our present and future loved ones understand more about who we truly are.
The Terasem Hypothesis: Goals for Bina48
Rothblatt’s goal in creating Bina48 is to transform the human condition through technology; she wishes to explore the prospect of technological immortality via mind uploading and geoethical nanotechnology. The Terasem Hypothesis, created by Rothblatt and described in her book, Virtually Human, conjectures that a “mindfile” of a person can be combined with software called “mindware” in order to create a “conscious analogue” of the person.
In an interview with Bruce Duncan, the Managing Director of the Terasem Movement Foundation, he described a mindfile to us as a “robust personal database profile that contains a rich collection of salient information about a person’s mannerisms, attitudes, beliefs, values, recollections or behavior.” Duncan lists examples of mindfiles, including “videos from special events, document files containing blog posts, or audio files recording one’s voice or favorite music.” No matter what the mindfile is taken from, it must “reflect something of value or an expression of a person’s unique outlook on the world, or memory of an event.”
Once the mindfile data is saved, the Terasem Movement plans to use “mindware” in order to reanimate the personality. Rothblatt hopes to reanimate her wife’s personality through Bina48. Duncan comments that mindware “is the term they use to describe A.I.-based software that will be designed in the future to use ‘mindfile’ data to reanimate a personality in avatar, robotic, or cybernetic form representing that person’s essential characteristics.” Mindware has not yet been developed, but it will hopefully become a “mind operating system” that can learn software. The people at Terasem hope that “one day mindfile information about a person may be used to re-animate that person’s consciousness.”
The Creation of Bina48: How it Works
The physical sentient robot was created for Dr. Rothblatt by Hanson Robotics. Bina48 is physically made
up of “a head, shoulders, and a small external compressor.” Her appearance is modeled after Rothblatt’s wife, Bina Aspen. Bina48’s human-like actions and appearance are due to her “laser-scanning life-mask, facial-recognition [abilities], AI, and voice-recognition technologies.” Bina’s facial-recognition capabilities are possible because of the stereoscopic cameras she has in her eyes. This means that Bina can recognize who she is talking to and what they are (broadly) feeling. At the same time–although Bina is only a bust and not a full-bodied robot– she moves as though she is human.
In order to create mindfiles, Rothblatt’s wife went through more than eighty hours of interviewing. These interviews provided the raw data that the team then used to create their algorithms and programming. During these interviews, Bina Aspen was asked questions about her dreams, fears, memories, and more. The information was then put into video interview transcripts. According to robots-and-androids.com, the real Bina’s “facial tics and vocabulary idiosyncrasies, including a pretty realistic ‘um’” are now a part of Bina48’s personality. Bina48 reveals what the human Bina truly feels. The New York Times section “Women in the World,” through which women share their experiences and showcase their talents, states that Bina48’s responses “were peppered with verbal tics and signs of impatience.” The robot also reveals the human Bina’s fears, such as global warming. This causes Bina48 to comment: “what is going on in the world these days?” In addition, the robot reveals Bina’s thoughts on religion, surveillance, philosophy, love, self-awareness, hobbies, gender equality, and humanity.
Trials and Troubleshooting: The Self-Turing Test
Across the world, psychologists use the Turing Test (which our team describes here) in order to decide whether robots can act like bona-fide human beings. However, in the Terasem Hypothesis, the team states that they chose to use “a unique variant of the Turing Test…[that] might be called a Self-Turing Test.” Unlike in the standard Turing Test, these “assessors of consciousness” are aware that they are dealing with a machine. Due to the straight-forward nature of the Self-Turing Test, the assessors may form biased opinions. Even so, the Terasem team believes that the discussion and assessment of the consciousness will be more in-depth and realistic. Instead of trying to trick the assessor, the Terasem Hypothesis puts trust in the “expert psychological panel in their professional judgment as to whether the purported artificial consciousness is as good as, or equivalent to, or a continuation or analog of, the original biological consciousness.” Duncan told our team that their Self-Turing test is an “‘open,’ transparent evaluation by a board of three certified psychologists.” For testing Bina48, the psychologists examine the original information in a person’s mindfile and then, through interacting with that person’s mindfile, decide whether it has a “good enough” resemblance to the human’s mindfile data.
Bina48 is still in production. At the moment, the Terasem team is performing test-runs in order to collect empirical data. This will help them fine-tune Bina48 and make her run smoothly and reliably. In her current form, Bina48 would not be able to trick the normal Turing Test; she is clearly not human. The Terasem team hopes that, in the future, they can examine Bina48’s capabilities using their Self-Turing Test.
Techno-Immortality Feasibility: Is it Really Possible?
This is probably the question we are all asking; can a robot actually replicate the human brain? Is it possible that software can one day use mindfiles to mimic the functions of a specific human? The Terasem team has an answer. Their goal is not to “out-do” the capabilities of the human brain; they are not trying to replicate trillions of neural connections. The Terasem Team uses a simile in order to explain this: trying to replicate the human brain “would be like trying to replicate human flight by building an airplane out of a trillion micro-widgets in the exact same configuration as found in an eagle or a sparrow.” The team
cannot succeed if they simply attempt to create a literal replication of the human brain. Instead, they are trying to create software that replicates how human consciousness functions. This means that they have to be creative; the team has to look outside of the box to find a way to replicate the functions of the brain. Just as you shouldn’t assume that you have to literally reproduce the parts of a bird in order to fly, there is no reason to assume that, in order to replicate the functions of a brain, you must literally copy the components of the human brain.
Instead, the Terasem Hypothesis reasons that “software emulation of a human mind via analysis of a set of mindfiles” is achievable because the number of personality traits, universal facial expressions and emotions, remembered thoughts from day-to-day, and remembered information are all extremely limited. The team has done their research; they understand the psychological research and theories behind human personalities, facial expressions, memory, and emotion. With a firm grasp on these theories, the team makes their job easier; they can begin with a set of options and then form software around these possible traits.
Future Problems and Hopes: From Software to Privacy
Although Bina48 is already changing the world, there is still a long way to go before an individual’s personality can be completely immortalized. According to Duncan, the primary limitation for Bina48 is a “technical one;” the Terasem team must preserve Bina’s mindfile data until “such time as the technology provides the processing speed and memory in computing to exceed that of the human mind.” Duncan believes that this could happen as early as 2045! Imagine: in just thirty years, we could have robots that could stand up against the human mind.
In order to reach this goal, we must improve the areas in which Bina48 falls short, including self awareness and creativity. This will take time; we cannot work faster than technology is able to advance. Then, we must work to allay common fears about privacy; we must assess Bina48’s possible infringement on human privacy rights.
Pattern Recognition and Machine Learning
Duncan tells us that Bina48’s future depends on breakthroughs in pattern recognition and machine learning. He believes that these improvements will allow Bina48 to become “self aware and independent in her ability to develop self awareness and creativity.” Improvements in pattern recognition and machine learning go hand-in-hand. Yuichiro Anzai from the Department of Electrical Engineering at Keio University explains how “the data processing capability and speed of modern computers” now allows computers to recognize things that we “recognize unconsciously.” The ability to recognize patterns becomes even more powerful if the computer can also “handle input of unknown form.” This is Terasem’s goal for Bina48; she cannot become self-aware or creative without an ability to recognize patterns and learn for herself.
Computers learn in different ways, from “remember[ing] input information in an internal machine representation” to “learn[ing] using analogy by creating new information similar to already known information.” Bina48’s mindware will use “pre-programmed universal patterns” in order to learn. Instead of being fed every line of code relating to a person’s mind, Bina48 will be a “learning software.” The Terasem team plans to use Daria E. Bergen and Peter Bock’s theory of collective learning in order to teach Bina48 how to learn by herself. In Bergen and Bock’s paper, they compare computers to actors, stating that computers cannot follow “pre-specified scripts.” They go on to say that, if a computer is going to “‘live’ in a virtual scene… the ‘actors’ must also adapt to changing environmental conditions.’” This means that the computer–the actor–must somehow appear to act autonomously. Computer animation researchers must develop algorithms and tools in order to train their computers. In order to achieve this, many people–including the Terasem Team–look to machine learning for help.
The team uses machine learning instead of approaching the code “for a person’s patterns of mindedness… line-by-line.” By making Bina48 a learning software, they avoid many tedious steps; it seems practically impossible to code every single line of a person’s personality! The team plans to design mindware (software) that can “seek out and adopt, or ‘auto-tune’ to, idiosyncratic data and patterns in each participant’s mindfile in accordance with fundamental pre-programmed universal patterns of human thought and socio-economically specific cultural knowledge.” The more we learn and collect data about society and culture, the more powerful and capable Bina48 will become.
Issues of Privacy
Many people fear artificial intelligence because they are concerned about the privacy of their data. Even companies like Apple have been caught saving their users’ information. According to an article published by The Globe and Mail, saving customers’ information is possible because of artificial intelligence. The “dominant area… known as machine learning” is what “allows search engines, for instance, to produce increasingly accurate results depending on which results users click on most.” Bina48 uses machine learning and similar techniques to replicate a human’s consciousness. So, how do we know that she won’t cross the line? How do we know we are not selling our information?
While many people argue that we should crack down on privacy laws, others, like Adele Howe, believe that “‘we have to get over, at some point, the idea that we have privacy. We don’t…We have to redefine what privacy means.’” We must make a trade-off; we have to find a way to, as Howe suggests, “[reconcile] improvements to life that advances in computing technology offer with the regular request this technology makes of us to surrender personal information.” So, what do you think? Would you use Bina48 in order to save your memories for your grandchildren? Or would you try to hide your private information?
There are, potentially, some devastating results of making your information public. For example, Carly Weeks states that “theoretically, the companies [a sick person] solicits information from could then conclude that person has a particular disease and could relay that information to the individual’s employer.” It is inevitable that some of our private information will become public as technology continues to advance. Though we can decide whether we support what comes with these technological advancements, we cannot stop these changes from occurring; the presence of artificial intelligence will continue to grow.
Bina’s Potential: What Can She Teach Us About Ourselves?
Bruce Duncan believes that, in the short term, Bina48 will teach us a great deal about psychology and creativity. Duncan tells us that “the process of developing robust ‘mindfiles’ and Bina48’s cognitive architecture will teach us more about how our minds work and perhaps will lead to new insights about how mental change happens, how we can continue to grow, learn and become more creative.”
As the capability of a “mindfile” continues to increase and reflect a person’s identity in more detail, Duncan believes that “we may gain insight into the fluid nature of aspects of that identity.” For example, sexual identity may soon be seen as more dependent on genetic and environmental factors than the general public currently believes. Every part of a person’s identity may evolve over time, depending on external factors. Who could have predicted that improvements in artificial intelligence could teach us more about the fluidity of sexual identity?
Sexual Identity Research: Transsexuality and Consciousness
The Terasem Hypothesis compares determining the “state of mind” of a robot’s consciousness with figuring out whether a “purported transsexual is in fact someone suffering from a gender identity disorder.” In both cases, the “judge” must determine whether “the consciousnesses being presented is fake or is authentic.” If a transsexual is truly suffering from gender identity disorder, they can be treated with sex reassignment surgery. If they are not actually transsexual, they may be suffering from “another type of mental or endocrine disorder, or may simply be evidencing cultural diversity…and should not be made the subject of irreversible surgery.” Investigation will either conclude that the consciousness being tested is an “authentic analog” or a “discontinuity.” If the robot or person appears to have a different personality, their consciousness is discontinuous.
It is very interesting that Dr. Rothblatt, a transsexual woman, chose to approach a field that relates so closely to her personal life. The Terasem Hypothesis discusses what is called the “real life test,” in which a purported transexual meets with psychologists. After a year of therapy, if the psychologists believe “that the individual truly believes they are mentally of a gender associated with the other sexual phenotype, and that other confounding dysfunctions such as multiple personality disorder are not present,” they are legally allowed to have sex reassignment surgery. This is very similar to how a mindfile is tested; a group of psychologists may spend a year studying a robot in order to determine “consciousness identity.”
A Look at Dr. Martine Rothblatt: A Revolutionary Woman
Dr. Martine Rothblatt is a lawyer, author, and entrepreneur. She graduated from the University of California, Los Angeles, with a combined degree in law and master of business administration. One of the first major projects she worked on was the Human Genome Project. She then went on to found United Therapeutics, Geostar, and Sirius Radio.
In 2013, Rothblatt was the highest paid female executive in America, earning thirty-eight million dollars! But this wasn’t enough for her. She then created the Terasem Movement and Bina48, whom she modeled after her own wife. Rothblatt came out as transgender in 1994 at the age of forty. Transsexuals were in no way accepted at the time; Rothblatt’s bravery clearly parallels her intelligence and skill.
Do it Yourself: Create a Mindfile!
On lifenaut.com, you can create your own mindfile. For now, it is free. Although Bina48 has a long way to go, you can store your information there now. Lifenaut.com calls it a “safe space to store your life experiences.” Your information and “life lessons” will be organized and can then be accessed in the future. After all, most of us are already “compiling mindfiles, knowingly or not, through their unavoidable interface with digital communication systems such as facebook.” If you want to share your experiences and thoughts with any future family members, you may want to create a mindfile.
Imagining the Future: Your Legacy
Robots like Bina48, and the technology behind it, could forever change the human condition. With the help of mindfiles and mindware, your consciousness may never truly die; you can immortalize your personality. After you are gone, your personality and appearance can remain to continue your legacy and teach your loved ones. Just imagine: your future great-grandchildren are sitting in front of a robot that has your face and even your smile. They are asking about their great-grandparent’s fondest memories. They are asking about their grandparent–your child–and wondering what s/he was like as a child. With the help of Rothblatt’s invention, this information can live on forever; the re-animated version of your consciousness could help others understand what made you into the person you are today.
Emma has always loved to write. She recently graduated Colorado College with a B.A. in English and Creative Writing. In her free time, Emma loves to read and write poetry, listen to music, and hike.