'We’ll out-Siri Siri, until we have consciousness': Futurist touts mind clones at SXSW

The 2015 SXSW Music, FIlm + Interactive Festival at the Paramount Theatre on March 14, 2015 in Austin, Texas (AFP Photo)
In the near future, cyber-consciousness will mean constitutional rights for increasingly humanoid robots, while humans will download their thoughts and memories to their mind clones, a futurist told the SXSW Interactive festival.

These processes will be part of the further “merging together” of human and cyber worlds, transhumanist philosopher and a pioneer in artificial intelligence Martine Rothblatt said Sunday at the conference for emerging technologies set in Austin, Texas, this week. In the long term, advances in software technology will create robots that will operate in tandem with and separate from humans.

"Eventually, these advances in software will rise to the level of consciousness,” she said, according to USA Today.

Discussing themes also addressed in her new book, “Virtually Human: The Promise — and the Peril — of Digital Immortality,” Rothblatt, founder of Sirius Satellite Radio and chief executive of biotech company United Therapeutics, said during the keynote speech on Day 3 of SXSW Interactive that cyber consciousness is inevitable.

"Every company will try to out-Siri Siri until we have consciousness," she said, referencing the Apple/iOS application that speaks to users to conduct a variety of tasks.

"It will be like water that rises and rises and rises and, before we know it, we're in an ocean of cyber consciousness."

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Eternal consciousness for humans, meanwhile, remains a goal Rothblatt is chasing with her own mind clone, Bina-48.

Bina-48 is named after Rothblatt’s real-life wife, Bina Aspen, and serves as a proof-of-concept for the futuristic idea that humans will one day have the ability to, in essence, upload their minds to a robotic clone, allowing humans a kind of artificial afterlife.

“I believe Mind Clones will be humanity’s biggest invention. The market opportunity is limitless,” Rothblatt told Bloomberg News in February. “Ultimately – just like we all want a smart phone, we all want a social media account – we are all going to want a Mind Clone. It will make everything in our life more useful, more valuable. It will give us twice as much time to do everything.”

Bina-48 was created five years ago as a digital replica uploaded with Bina Aspen’s thoughts, memories and feelings – all of which were broken down into computer code to create a digital version of her consciousness. Created by Hanson Robotics, Bina-48 can engage in conversation, answer questions and even have “spontaneous” thoughts that are derived from multimedia data in a “mindfile” created by the real Bina.

“Mind Clone is a digital copy of your mind outside of your body,” Rothblatt said at the time. “I think Mind Clone will look like an avatar on the screen, talking, instead of a robot version. Mind Clones are 10-20 years away.

“Am I talking about a law of physics here? Am I talking about defying gravity here? No. Am I talking about going faster than light? No. All I am doing here is talking about writing some good code.”

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Artificial intelligence and robotics have played a major role at SXSW Interactive this year, as thousands have attended panel discussions and speeches on the topics. USA Today reported that these themes have triggered protests outside the gathering, as demonstrators feared the build-up of artificial intelligence portends a bleak future for the human race.

But Rothblatt, reported to be the highest-paid female CEO in America, contended that robots and humans can consciously live together as one. She claimed “we don't want to create a new slave-versus-free motif.”

"It's not us versus cyberspace," she said. "We're merging together."

She added that robots will eventually have legal rights, and the angst of being less than human could create “cyber psychiatrists” for anxious robots, echoing a central theme of the novel ‘Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?’ and its film companion, ‘Blade Runner.’

Cyber-technology, she said, will help humanity surpass the limits of its own existence, just as advancements in medical technology have allowed for longer lifespans.

"We are the species that keeps pushing further and further and further," Rothblatt said. "There is no line in the sand at which point human consciousness has to end."