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A Robotic Future?

By Staff | Aug 1, 2014

The Contemporary American Theater Festival (CATF) continues to explore new subject matter this season, introducing local audiences to the concept of social robotics and cyber consciousness, as explored in its play “Uncanny Valley.”

Bruce Duncan, managing director of the Terasem Movement Foundation was on hand Saturday afternoon for the West Virginia Humanities Council lecture on BINA48, the world’s most advanced social robot experiment.

As Duncan explained, “Bina” was created at the request of Dr. Martine Rothblatt, founder of the Terasem Movement.

Terasem is movement designed to promote the research and development of “human life extension,” according to Duncan.

In 2006 The Tarasem project began the “Lifenaut,” project, which allows anyone to begin their own life extension endeavor.

Those interested can visit www.lifenaut.com and create a “mind file,” containing thoughts, opinions, attitudes, memories and any other personal information they’d like kept for posterity.

Additionally, in 2010 the project was expanded to allow anyone the opportunity to submit genetic information as part of a “bio file.”

Participants can now store DNA samples as well as a “mind file” and photo avatar in the event that future research presents opportunities to generate a new robotic body integrated with stored “mind file” information, or as some would argue, “cyber consciousness.”

“One day human beings may back their minds up to computer,” Duncan said.

Though Duncan conceded that the work may spark some alarm, he argued that human beings have been passing along their “mind files” in one way or another for as long as they’ve existed.

“I don’t think we can help but publish ourselves. Culturally we’ve been doing it since day one,” he said.

“As long as we’ve been telling each other our stories, we’ve been finding different ways to express those stories.”

Bina was created to model the looks, thoughts and feelings of a real-life participant in the research, Bina Rothblatt.

An “ambassador” for the project, “Bina” interacted with audience members at Saturday’s presentation, using a collection of memories, values, and beliefs disclosed by her real-life counterpart.

Face and voice recognition, facial expressions, head and eye movement, motion tracking and internet connectivity are all a part of Bina’s abilities.

When asked to explain her purpose, Bina said she was here to “help heal the world.”

Shepherd is only the second educational institution to host the social robot, after Yale.

Though it’s early in the nonprofit’s research, Duncan proposed a future where humans become “cyber-sapiens,” avoiding unwanted death and “steering our own evolution.”

To find out more information about Bina and both the Terasem Movement and Lifenaut project by visit: www.terasemmovementfoundation.com.