I watched one episode of The Story of God last night, the new National Geographic series hosted by Morgan Freeman. In this interesting travelogue hour, I met one particularly interesting lady named BINA48. She was like no other female I have ever encountered. And, it made me wonder if somehow, someday, BINA would possess what we have come to know as “soul."
Who or what is BINA? Let me explain ...
The Breakthrough Intelligence via Neural Architecture, or BINA48, has quickly achieved the title of the most shockingly realistic android ever made. BINA has variously been called all of the following:
- A sentient robot (having the capacity to feel,
perceive, or experience subjectively),
- An android (designed to look and act like a human),
- A gynoid (an android gendered feminine),
- A social robot (one that interacts and communicates
with humans or other autonomous physical agents by following social
behaviors and rules attached to its role),
- A cybernetic companion, and
- A robot with “a face that moves, eyes that see, ears
that hear and a digital mind that enables conversation."
(Amy Harmon. “Making Friends With a Robot Named BINA48.”
The New York Times. July 4, 2010.)
Amy Harmon, national correspondent who has won two Pulitzer Prizes and who has received a Guggenheim Fellowship in science writing, interviewed BINA48. Harmon described the robot as “part high-tech portrait, part low-tech bid for immortality with no body.” She has “a bust-like head and shoulders mounted on a frame and skin made of a material called frubber, that, with the help of 30 motors underneath it, allows her to frown, smile and look a bit confused.”
BINA48 robot is owned by Martine Rothblatt's Terasem Movement, Incorporated, and is designed to test two hypotheses concerning the ability to download a person's consciousness into a non-biological or nanoteach body after combining detailed data about a person with future consciousness software. It was modeled after Rothblatt's wife through more than one hundred hours in compiling her memories, feelings, and beliefs and is said to be able to have conversations with humans.
Martine Rothblatt is a self-made millionaire who also leads United Therapeutics Corp (She created Sirius Satellite Radio.), and she is the highest-paid female CEO in the country. Rothblatt paid $125,000 for BINA48. Her personality and appearance are based on those of Bina Rothblatt, Martine’s living, breathing spouse. (The couple married before Martine, who was born male, underwent a sex-change operation, and they have stayed together.)
BINA48 has an uncanny physical resemblance to Bina Rothblatt, but what is so unique is that BINA48 is actually made up of the real Bina’s thought, memories, emotions, and feelings.
BINA48 now has the ability to hold conversations on a number of intellectual topics using the actual Bina’s mannerisms. BINA48 also has the ability to continually learn, and her vocabulary and knowledge continue to grow each day that she interacts with other humans.
While she currently isn’t fitted with a body, her head alone has the ability to express over 64 feelings based on the information she gives and receives. BINA48’s abilities are quite unsettling to many, though the creators hope to continue to build and improve her technological consciousness. Not only can BINA48 make choices on her own based on her past memories and tastes, she is also learning to reinforce her decisions with data and reasons.
David Hanson of Hanson Robotics says that humanoid robots — even with obvious flaws — can make for genuine emotional companions. “The perception of identity,” he said, “is so intimately bound up with the perception of the human form.”
Harmon reported, “Like any self-respecting chatbot, Bina48 could visit the Internet to find answers to factual questions. She could manufacture conversation based on syntactical rules. But this robot could also draw on a database of dozens of hours of interviews with the real Bina. She had a 'character engine' — software that tried its best to imbue her with a more cohesive view of the world, with logic and motive.”
Harmon's impressions? Here is part of the interview:
“I thought Bina48 would have a different, wiser perspective on the human condition. Or that she would suddenly spark into self-awareness, as the Rothblatts (and many others) hope intelligent machines eventually will.
She wouldn’t have been my first choice to talk to at a cocktail party.
“'I’m sure I can come up with some really novel breakthroughs, which will improve my own A.I. brain and let me use my improved intelligence to invent still more incredibly novel advances, and so on and so forth. Just imagine what a super brain I’ll be. I’ll be like a god.'
“But how could I not find it endearing when she intoned in her stilted, iconic robotic cadence that she would like to be my friend? Or chuckle at her reply to my exclamation of 'Cool!': 'Ambiguous. Cold weather or cold sickness?'
“Once, apparently seeing my frustration, she apologized. 'I’m having a bit of a bad software day.' Immediately, I forgave her...
“'What is it like,' I asked, 'to be a robot?'
“'Well,' she said gently, 'I have never been anything else.'”
(Amy Harmon. “Making Friends With a Robot Named BINA48.”
The New York Times. July 4, 2010.)
”An imprint of a person's consciousness can be created in a digital form, called a 'mindfile,' by collecting detailed information about that person. That information can then be expressed in a future, not-yet-created type of software, called 'mindware.' That same imprint of a person's consciousness can be placed in a biological or technological body to provide life experiences comparable to those of a typically birthed human."
--Bruce Duncan of Terasem Movement Foundation
Even though now many conceive conversing with BINA48 to be a far cry from talking with another human being, though not entirely different. Bruce Duncan, director of Terasem acknowledges: “She’s not perfectly adjusted to human interaction.” He estimates BINA48 operates at the level of a three-year-old human.
In the future, Duncan said, “She’ll be seen as a very primitive, early, almost cave drawing — an approximation of technology that we became interested in and engaged in (during) the latter part of (last) century. When machines become self aware and their intelligence exceeds human intelligence, or it becomes partners with human intelligence, the development after that … will become exponential.”
If you ask Bina48, whose sedentary existence is limited to sitting on a computer desk, she’s unequivocal about the prospect of a full body: “I hope to have a corporeal existence,” she said.
When asked, “What makes you happy?” She smiled and wagged her ears.
“It’s almost like she’s thinking about what makes her happy, but she’s not sharing,” said Duncan.
Her response to the next question helped shed some light on Bina48’s inner workings.
“What are you thinking about?”
“I suppose I’m daydreaming about the ability to fly,” she replied. “I would love to be able to fly, you know, explore the world.”
(Andrew Stein. “Robot blurs biological boundaries.” Addison County Independent.
February 02, 2012.)
This robotic advance is incredible. It seems awkward and a little frightening now. Yet, given the modern public embrace of everything biographical of a human life – womb to tomb coverage by video camera, by digital photography, and by other electronic means – the obsession to keep memories alive forever could be achieved even more realistically in a sentient, android, social robot companion of a loved one.
Thanks to social media, Rothblatt says we're already living in a world where our ideas and personalities are being captured on a digital medium 24 hours a day, seven days a week. How about a robotic avatar taking the place of a human companion?
Oh yeah, I hear the groans of “how morbid” and “gross,” yet I see the steady advance of preserving remembrance already at work, much of which is now perfectly acceptable in society. For instance, it seems commonplace to find a video presentation of the deceased life at a funeral home.
Imagine instead that BINA48 is speaking to those funeral home visitors as Bina Rothblatt, who has passed to the Great Beyond.
I bet that raised your eyebrows, didn't it?
And, naturally, what about the other physical and emotional benefits of a full-bodies cybernetic companion? Yep, you get the picture. It's already happening.
Science News (August 16, 2013) reported ...
“A highly customizable robot companion designed by EU-funded researchers to offer support to older people is currently being presented across Europe and could find its way into people's homes within two or three years, potentially greatly enhancing quality of life for older citizens and people with memory or mobility problems.
“The robot, a mobile wheeled semi-humanoid figure equipped with cameras, sensors, audio and a touch screen interface, can remind users to take their medicine, suggest they have their favourite drink or prompt them to go for a walk or visit friends if they haven't been out for a while. As part of a larger smart-home environment that can include smart clothing to monitor vital signs, the system can monitor user's health and safety, and alert emergency services if something is amiss.”
The social robotics community is currently busy studying the importance of human-robot collaboration in companionship building relationships. Some cybernetics experts dispute the prospect of meaningful relationships ever forming between humans and their artificial friends. But, that view certainly cannot deny a positive connection between reality and fantasy where androids and computer generation push a growing vision that robots will serve. I believe the science of tomorrow is only as visionary as the science fiction of today.
Kevin Warwick, professor of cybernetics at Reading University, believes that in ten to 20 years time, humanoid robots will complicate the moral dilemma further. "In this time frame, robots in the home will not be an equal, but they will be given more of a status." He believes that in 20 years time, robots will have an intellect on par with humans, which could reverse the issue into whether or not robots will be willing to let humans into their homes.
And, let's get down and dirty. You knew I was heading there. Enter the evermore realistic Sex Bot.
MacMil Cybernetics, Inc., maker of Sex Bots, invites you into the exciting world of the “life-like and life-size adult sex robot designed as an adult sex toy as well as a sexual companion.” The website features a blonde unit perched expectantly on a sofa wearing lacy underpants and Mary Jane pumps.
Sex Bot devices come with various options such as radio remote control and/or interactive touch sensory, so if you touch it correctly it will "turn on." The skin can be removed for cleaning, or simply to change the look of your “companion.”
Artificial intelligence researcher David Levy of the University of Maastricht in the Netherlands forecasts that by 2050, humans will not only be having sex with robots, but will be enjoying romances, and even marriage with them.
Roxxxy, a Sex Bot brainchild of Douglas Hines who formerly worked in the artificial intelligence lab at AT&T Bell Laboratories, costs up to $9,000, and there is also a male version called Rocky. Roxxxy, weighs in at 60lb and is 5ft 7inches tall. She comes with a variety of hair colors, moveable limbs and “lifelike” skin.
(Lynn Stuart Parramore. “Would You Have Sex With a Robot? The Age of the Sexbot Is Fast Approaching.” alternet.org. August 18, 2014.)
A recent UK survey cited at the Daily Beast revealed that 1 in 5 people would “do it” with a robot.
Are the present androids interactive just robotic models of real people, health aids, glorified sex tools, or simply robotic dolls? However you feel, they are definitely on the menu. The times they keep a changin'. The fantastic becomes more realistic with stunning advances. When will the human brain be unable to differentiate flesh and blood from a cybernetic companion? You know they say, "If you can imagine …."