Mankind has always been intrigued by life questions like “Who am I?” and “What is the Meaning of Life”? Through medicine, philosophy, physics and many more disciplines we tried to answer this question. Can a relatively new discipline like computer science, a discipline that’s not even a century old, shine a new bright light on these life questions?
To start our adventure I would like to ask you a question:
Do you like the idea that you are going to die? Or do you like the idea that your loved ones are going to die? Probably not…
(Hold on, the rest of this blog isn’t that depressive ;-). In fact, the next paragraph already offers a solution!)
Martine Rothblatt didn’t like the idea of dying either. She couldn’t stand the thought that her beloved partner, Bina Rothblatt, would eventually die. Rothblatt is a very successful entrepreneur in the United States and knows how to get things done. She took measures and started the transhumanistic Terasem Movement in 2004. The goal of this non-profit organization is to inform the public about the use of nanotechnology for drastic human life extension. One way to promote their ideas and inform the public is via Bina 48:
On the right you see the beloved partner of Martine Rothblatt: Bina. In the left upper corner you see the replica of Bina, called Bina48. The most interesting part of Bina48 is not the detailed resemblance of Bina, or the ability to mimic facial expressions. The most interesting part is the Artificial Intelligence (AI) inside the head.
The AI of Bina48 tries to simulate the personality of Bina. The team behind Bina48 tries to integrate the personal interests, curiosities and history of the real Bina into the AI. The goal is to create a digital clone. That way even the great-grandchildren of the Rothblatt couple can talk to Bina.
Digitalizing a personality is still in its infant stage, but you are already invited to upload or ‘file’ your mind as well. The process is called ‘Mindfiling’; you can add photos, videos, and documents to a digital archive on LifeNaut.com. Through geo mapping, timelines and tagging you can organize and chronologize all the given input for your own digital clone. This way the uploaded files get meaning and your life events follow the correct storyline. A digital avatar can be created as well, which completes the digital clone. Ultimately the digital clone should act and respond just like you would.
Penetrating our lives
Bina48 and mindfiling are interesting cases of people-fication and embodiment of technology. ‘People-fication’ is the integration of human characteristics or abilities in algorithms. The embodiment is the part when the technology is given a face or body. (see also SogetiLab-VINT’s report on Chatbots for further information)
People-fication and embodiment become more and more common in the form of humanoid robots, digital clones, chatbots, or other social robots. With the more human like characteristics and abilities, technology penetrates our lives even more than before. Futurist Gerd Leonhard summarizes this in his book Technology vs. Humanity:
“Now, technological magic is starting to transcend the realm of hardware and stuff – it’s no longer about devices, gadget, services, or connectivity. Increasingly it’s about us, our bodies, our minds, our humanity.”
Leonhard warns us about becoming to depend on (social) robots. In his eyes this can lead to human deskilling: a process where people unlearn basic skills like writing and opening a spreadsheet, but also a loss of empathy and free will. Imagine ‘outsourcing’ the task to organize a party to an Intelligent Digital Assistant (IDA). The IDA will choose the people to invite based on your history together, the IDA will choose the music, the food, the location, etc. This can be very convenient, but also raises questions about who’s in control of your own life.
Holding a mirror
Bina48, mindfiling, and the more intimate way of penetrating our lives, these three aspects bring us to the end of this blog.
Humanoid robots, chatbots, digital clones, or other social robots that mimic a human, or human thought are holding up a mirror for us. Our own creations are confronting us with questions about life. Imagine we can make a human level AI in 10, 50, 250 years. What does that mean for the concept of ‘human’? Does that mean we are biological computers? Are we basically determined programs which are run by sequential physiological processes? Do we have a free will?
Maybe we will reach limits on the human likeliness of an Artificial Intelligence. Maybe we discover that it really is impossible to let an AI have original thoughts or feel real emotions. Will this discovery show us our truly uniquely human characteristics? Does this mean there is something more to our brain than just an impressive network of neurons?