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Seeking Human Cyber Consciousness

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Martine Rothblatt.

Martine Rothblatt cites as a personal motto: there is no limit to what you can accomplish if you dont worry about taking credit for it.

Credit: St. Martin's Press

Martine Rothblatt has an extensive, diverse resume.

Born a male, attorney-entrepreneur Martin Rothblatt focused his early career on satellite communications. During the 1980s and 1990s, he launched a number of companies in the nascent satellite field, including the first nationwide vehicle location system (Geostar), the first private international spacecom project, the first global satellite radio network, and the first non-geostationary satellite-to-car broadcasting system.

Rothblatt married Bina Aspen in 1982, and they had four children. His youngest daughter was diagnosed with an extremely rare form of primary pulmonary hypertension (PPH); Rothblatt created the PPH Cure Foundation, and later launched medical biotechnology company United Therapeutics, which developed an oral form of the injectable medicine his daughter required.

In 1994, Martin Rothblatt became Martine Rothblatt though sexual reassignment surgery. Now 60, Rothblatt is working in the area of human cyber consciousness, and explains why she thinks it is possible in her recently released book, Virtually Human.

Cyber consciousness, Rothblatt explains, "is a software system that persuaded observers that it had an internalized sense of who it was, what it was, what its place in the world was." Rothblatt defines human cyber consciousness is "Human-level consciousness in a cybernetic medium, such as a computer." Human-level means it incorporates "autonomy and empathy," which are what differentiates the two, she explains; "autonomy, being idiosyncratic, meaning an unique way to synergize a decision of what is right or wrong, able to make a right or wrong decision, and empathy, which is an ability to in fact place your mind into the mind of another person."

She says human cyber consciousness and transhumanism (a movement that seeks to transform the human condition through technology) have largely been considered more science fiction rather than science; for one, Francis Fukuyama, then-professor of international political economy at Johns Hopkins University, described transhumanism as "a strange liberation movement" whose benefits "come at a frightful moral cost" in a 2004 article in Foreign Policy magazine as part of a special report devoted to "The World’s Most Dangerous Ideas."

Rothblatt is attempting to change that view through the Terasem Movement, an organization that seeks to transition human consciousness from a living person to a cyber conscious human through uploading "mind files" that represent the information that makes that individual unique.

"Everything that I am currently working on are areas where there is currently a lot of entropy, a lot of uncertainty, a lot of unknowns," Rothblatt says. "I use computer science virtually in every way to decrease these unknowns. What we are trying to do is to develop predictable patterns of information sets out of that uncertainty, and once we develop those predictable information sets, we can use those pattern sets to accomplish useful things. Like, we know we want to accomplish B and we know we just established a predictable pattern where A leads to B, we can accomplish useful things."

With regard to Terasem, Rothblatt says, "The uncertainty there is that when an individual dies, the consciously set information of that individual rapidly converges toward total entropy or total uncertainty. The LifeNaut MindFile Program at Terasem is all about maintaining as accurate as possible a record of the information sets that represent each and every person. The next step is having an entire data set of an individual that is still not a repetition of that individual. I’m going to need the algorithms that tie that data together and that’s where at."

Rothblatt says Terasem "is basically an operating system that organizes a data set and has treatable perimeters that are imminent in that data set itself. The next thing we’re working on at Terasem is improving the capabilities of very gross forms of mindware like Chatbox, to be highly tunable, highly accurate, that accurately reflect the personality and the mannerism of the individual and the individual’s likeness that is represented in the mindfile. Once one has achieved that, you end up with a mind-clone of the original individual."

A more detailed explanation of Rothblatt’s ideas can be found in her published articles, including "The Terasem Mind Uploading Experiment."

Throughout her career, Rothblatt, a self-described recluse, has been repulsed by the notion of being in the public eye. She cites as a personal motto: "There is no limit to what you can accomplish if you don’t worry about taking credit for it."

"I really don’t get joy out of credit. I am repulsed by it. I get joy out of actually seeing one of the age-old barriers of technology begin to crumble away; that’s the barrier of continued life after bodily death."

George Church, a professor of genetics at Harvard Medical School and member of the BRAIN (Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies) Initiative, which is attempting to map the activity of every neuron in the human brain, says the Terasem Movement "is a variation on mind-uploading discussions dating back to the early days of artificial intelligence.

"The ability to simulate individual capabilities (for example, expert systems) and personalities using computers has been steadily improving, and this is a topic worth considering at each stage for potential risks and benefits."

Daniel Lumpkin is a freelance journalist in the Atlanta area.


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