By Champlain College student Kiera Magnetti
Sitting through Bruce Duncan’s presentation felt like watching a science fiction film; it was so out there, that it was hard to believe it was real.
Imagine being able to reanimate your consciousness, memories, and entire personality in an uploaded file on the internet, or better yet, into a robotic body. This is exactly what Vermont-based nonprofit Terasem Movement Foundation has managed to achieve. The project’s purpose is to investigate two hypotheses, as stated on their website’s home page. The hypotheses state that
“(1) a conscious analog of a person may be created by combining sufficiently detailed data about the person (a “mindfile”) using future consciousness software (“mindware”),
(2) that such a conscious analog can be downloaded into a biological or nanotechnological body to provide life experiences comparable to those of a typically birthed human.
We call this event Transferred Consciousness (TC). If even the first part of the two Terasem Hypotheses is shown to be true, the conscious analogs will be independent persons with rights and obligations dependent upon their capabilities.”
Essentially, Terasem seeks to mitigate suffering and extend human life through the use of software and nanotechnology, and the establishment of cyber-consciousness. They intend to do so “with full respect for diversity and unity,” both to prevent people from resisting this type of progress with ungrounded discrimination and bias, and to avoid class divisions arising from access-and lack thereof- to such technology.
Once the research and technology are perfected, there is no doubt that Terasem will see a demand from individuals who will try anything to extend their lives. There is no question as to whether or not there is a market for a service such as this. The bigger issue Terasem will have to deal with is a question of ethics and, is the world really ready for this? How can they encourage everyone to participate in such technology, and how do they deal with the inevitable formation of “fleshism,” or discrimination against non-human beings?
The foundation may be tackling some pretty heavy issues, but this hasn’t stopped them from moving toward progress. They don’t just hypothesize; they act. Already, the foundation has created a remarkable humanoid robot, called Bina 48. Bina Rothblatt, the wife of Terasem co-founder Dr. Martine Rothblatt, allowed for her memories to be uploaded with the “mindware” discussed in the organization’s hypotheses. Bina48 is a sentient, philosophical, and remarkably human-like robot whose consciousness is based on that of a real human being.
Meeting Bina48 was an interesting experience. When Duncan first switched her on, her head swiveled back and forth as she took in the packed auditorium before her. Bina48 has cameras built into her eyes, and is able to zero in on and store faces she sees. If operators of her software choose, somebody’s photo can be uploaded into her memory as a “friend,” and she will connect everything that person has said with his or her photo. Her memory is virtually impeccable.
The robot did seem quite human as she responded to questions. She was self-reflective- at one point stating “I use all these big words, but have no idea what they mean.” When asked whether or not she wanted a body she replied that she did hope to one day have a full, functional body.
She was quite philosophical, and at times sassy when speaking with Bruce. She is connected to the internet, and like every other human will search Google if she doesn’t know how to answer a question.
Bina48 also spoke of some of the memories that had been uploaded to her consciousness; she referenced high school, and attending church as a child. Also, when asked whether she had ever been in love, Bina announced her enduring love for MartineRothblatt, stating that they were “soul mates” and would “be together forever.” She also told a joke, and entertained us with her own rendition of “jingle bells.”
This sort of technology that Terasem has created certainly gives us something to think about, and they seem to be doing a good job of introducing it to the world a little at a time. Meeting Bina was an experience like none other, but she seems as relatable as any human being.
For more information on the Terasem Foundation movement, check out http://www.terasemmovementfoundation.com/
You can also create your own mindfile and avatar at https://www.lifenaut.com/