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A Robotic You

I went to see the Imitation Game last week.  It was really upsetting; I mean, the end was upsetting, the rest of the movie was wonderful.  But that’s the problem with sad endings: it’s the note that you end on, so you walk out of the theater on that note.

The next night at dinner, we told the twins the plot of the movie.  We had just been to the Spy Museum where they have a room dedicated to the Enigma machine and Turing’s work.  I told them about the Turing test and the idea of the imitation game.  Which, of course, led us to the topic of Bina48.

Bina48 is a robot modeled after Martine Rothblatt’s wife, Bina.  If you look up Bina48 on YouTube, you can see her in action.  Her face moves.  She can listen and respond to conversation a la Siri.  Her “brain” is a replica of the real Bina’s brain in that Bina has given Bina48 her memories and likes and beliefs and personality quirks.  She’s Bina… sort of… without Bina’s emotions.

Terasem, Rothblatt’s foundation that made and cares for Bina48, is currently allowing anyone who wants to make a mindfile.  You can have this receptacle to upload your thoughts and feelings with the idea that the file could one day be downloaded into an robotic body made to look like you.  And relatives thousands of years into the future would be able to power you up and have an actual conversation with you.  They could ask questions and get answers.

Which is sort of cool… right?

Instead of making a small book towards the end of your life, curated and culled to what you believe will be the most important information to pass along to future people who want it, you could start uploading your You-ness at birth.  And as you age, you could keep putting information into your mindfile.  I could upload the recipe for my chocolate chip cookies and my thoughts about current events as they’re happening (vs. trying to remember them in retrospect) and go through the step-by-step process of constructing a book.  And then future generations would be able to sit with a robotic me (or, currently, a photo avatar of me) and talk to me.  They could ask me questions, and my avatar would answer them.

It’s not just helpful for the future.  I mean, it would be helpful now.  How many times do people ask me questions that my avatar could technically answer?  Like a recipe or someone’s email address or my thoughts on an article?

So… would you create a mindfile?  And let it be uploaded into a robotic body?  And would you want your loved ones to do the same?


1 Sarah { 02.04.15 at 7:38 am }

Wasn’t the Imitation Game just gutting? I mean, I loved it. Truly LOVED it. But the end… I am so full of grief with how this brilliant man’s life ended.

2 a { 02.04.15 at 8:41 am }

I can’t wait to see that movie.

I like the idea of the mindfile – I wish some of my relatives had done that, so I could ask all the questions about family history and things. I don’t know that I would do one, because (comparatively speaking) my life is rather bland. And my daughter has a tendency to be clingy, so I don’t think I would want to give her a reason to be attached to an inanimate object. It might interfere in her living her life.

3 tigger62077 { 02.04.15 at 9:30 am }

While it is an intriguing idea, after watching Transcendence, I think I will opt not to. I love the idea but in practice I think it’s a bad idea. Losing someone once is bad enough – but if the files decay? The bot gets a virus? It would be like losing them all over again. I don’t think I could do it – even though I would love for my son to be able to know my mom, even in that manner.

4 Heather { 02.04.15 at 12:08 pm }

A written book of memories and thoughts? Yes.
A mind file? No.
A mind file with a robot that looked like me? Double No.
I’m on earth for an infinite amount of time. I want to spend that time connecting with people and making memories and teaching and being there, being present. When I die, my family will have their own memories and any history that I may have forgotten to tell them will be lost. Does that suck? Yes. But it’s part of living and moving on.
I don’t like the idea of the robot because honestly, it would be a lot like Harry Potter’s Mirror of Erised. I wouldn’t want my children/grandchildren whiling away their time with robot me and miss out on making memories of their own.

5 Laurel Regan { 02.04.15 at 12:16 pm }

I really loved that movie. I was on the edge of tears throughout because of the difficulties and conflicts he faced – I really felt for him – and I cried at the end (even though I already knew what had happened to him). Such a well-done movie, and I hope it wins some awards.

6 Catwoman73 { 02.04.15 at 1:25 pm }

I haven’t seen the movie, but it certainly sounds intriguing.

I wouldn’t create a mindfile, nor would I want my consciousness to be uploaded. I’m a very, VERY private person, and am happy that the space between my ears is mine, and mine alone. I think that leaving behind an edited version of myself, in the form of a written diary, video or otherwise is all I would ever be comfortable with. Besides, I think that leaving behind too much of ourselves makes it tough for those left behind to move on. How do you move through the grieving process when the person is still (sort of) there?

7 Ana { 02.04.15 at 2:41 pm }

Just changed my mind about seeing that movie this weekend. not in the best place right now and thought a movie outing may be cheering. So thanks for saving me from being plunged into even more gloom!

8 Valery Valentina { 02.04.15 at 2:44 pm }

Say I made a mindfile every 5 years, and for the fun of it, also a robot look alike.
These robots would give conflicting answers, and probably get into fights. And i think it would only be interesting for me. To tap back into that youthful energy. To relive the agony of certain stupidity. (or thrill) But um, I’d like to keep my past mistakes away from people who love me now, and a mindfile with experiences missing wouldn’t make sense, as I only seem to learn from my own mistakes?
On the other hand, it might be great for my DE daughter to go back in time and browse through my infertility years? To help understand the ‘Why’ if that ever comes up?

9 Lori Lavender Luz { 02.04.15 at 6:08 pm }

Ooooh. Juicy topic.

1. Would you upload to me your recipe for chocolate chip cookies?

2. Re thoughts on current events: so many times I’ve thought one thing while an event is unfolding, and then had so many more nuanced thoughts as years pass. So my mindfile would need to revisit big events in my life — both my own and the world’s — periodically.

3. Yes, I would. I would love to have a conversation with myself. Is that odd?

10 Mali { 02.04.15 at 8:27 pm }

I loved loved LOVED The Imitation Game, even though the ending made me so furious. Best film I’ve seen in a long time.

The mindfile is quite an interesting idea – though brings up other issues for those of us who won’t have any descendants. It struck me though – isn’t that what you’re doing with a blog?

11 Sharon { 02.05.15 at 11:56 am }

I really want to see that movie.

The mindfile sounds interesting, and I would consider making one for posterity. I would love to have mindfiles of my grandparents, especially of my grandfathers and of my husband’s grandparents, whom I never met. The robot seems creepy, though. I think that would be a bridge too far for me.

12 Alexicographer { 02.05.15 at 7:06 pm }

Probably not. But I would in a heartbeat accept a hologram — I don’t think it would need to be much more, though perhaps a robot would be useful — who could sit and “converse” with my dad as he declines from dementia in a nursing home. There’s really not much required, but knowing I’m there matters to him. While, in all honesty, it’s not obvious he deserves much of my time and heaven knows there’s too little of it available for any number of things, including but not limited to him, if there were a low-cost way to keep him feeling more comfortable/secure, that would be a wonderful thing.

(c) 2006 Melissa S. Ford
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