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Excerpted from VIRTUALLY HUMAN: The Promise – And The Peril – Of Digital

Immortality 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.