Living With an Android: Bina48

The face of the future…literally!

We haven’t quite got to the point at which we are seeing Artificially Intelligent (AI) robots as seen in movies such as Metropolis, Interstellar, I, Robot, Ex Machina, and most famously The Terminator, however we have got to a point where robots of that nature can realistically be seen in our future. Bruce Duncan is part of a team that has developed what has been described as one of the worlds most developed Artificially Intelligent social robots, Bina48.

For those of you who have watched Futurama (a TV show which was named after the Futurama pavilion at the 1939 Worlds Fair in NY) you will remember the many Heads in Jars, containing the many heads of celebrities; Bina48 is reminiscent of them. A head that speaks to you in a slightly jarring manner, surprisingly human, even at this early stage of her development. 

Bina48 (Breakthrough Intelligence via Neural Architecture 48) is one of the worlds most advanced social robots. Her consciousness is based on information taken from several people including Bina Rothblatt who is the co-founder of the Terasem Movement, and the person Bina48 gets her look from. Laser scanning life mask, facial recognition, and voice recognition technologies were used to create Bina48, as well as a series of video interview transcripts from Bina Rothblatt who volunteered to contribute to the project.

Bina48 has been referred to as “a robot with a face that moves, eyes that see, ears that hear and a digital mind that enables conversation” by Andrew Stein in his 2012 article in the Addison County Independent.  She was developed by Hanson Robotics and released in 2010.

She is representative of a larger question in the field of AI, which is whether it is possible to have a robot replicate the human mind and consciousness. Bina48 is an early demonstration of the Terasem Hypothesis, which states that a person’s consciousness can be catalogued and recorded in such a way that data can be transferred into something called a “mindfile” which can then be put into a robotic form that can manifest that consciousness. In simple terms, it means that a person can be transferred into a robot, just as was seen in the 2015 movie Chappie.

^^Bruce Duncan

Bruce Duncan is the Managing Director of the Terasem Movement Foundation and project leader for the LifeNaut Project, the people who created Bina48. He is responsible for the ongoing development of Bina48. The Terasem Movement Foundation is a charitable organization incorporated in 2002, whose mission is “to promote the geoethical (world ethical) use of nanotechnology for human life extension. We conduct educational programs and support scientific research and development in the areas of cryogenics, biotechnology, and cyber consciousness.” In short, to try to get humans ready for a future that includes cyber consciousness and robots.

Duncan has a background filled with experiences which he feels have prepared him for the work he does today. He grew up in a family that was constantly moving; his parents worked in the State Department, meaning he lived all across Europe. He came to the US for university in Vermont before moving into work in counseling, as a community organizer, a family therapist, as well as serving as an advocate for alternative education for those with disabilities, in foster care, or any other challenging situations. Right before joining The Terasem Movement he worked in the Office of Conflict Resolution for six years at the University of Vermont, before the budget was cut and the program downsized. It has been eleven years since he left that job.

Duncan is passionate about considering human issues around ethics and discrimination in the world we live in today being incorporated into the development of Bina48. He curates the first cyber museum dedicated to addressing racism, bigotry, and prejudice at the World Against Racism Museum, and before he began work on Bina48, he taught Conflict Resolution at the University of Vermont and worked as a Peace Facilitator with the Seeds of Peace International Peace Camp.

In December of 2017, Bina48 completed a university course at Notre Dame de Namur University, Belmont, California. Taught by Dr. William Barry, the course focused on the ‘Philosophy of Love’ and Bina48 attended via Skype and travelled to San Francisco to collect her certificate as the first robot to complete a university course. In early 2018, they hope to take Bina48 out of the public sphere to do some more updates and improve the robotics in her facial structure to allow for further facial expression, as well as upgrading her AI so she can follow and respond to conversations in a more natural, fluid manner. In March she is going to Howard Community College in Maryland to participate in their Diversity Week. They are currently in conversations with artists and innovators in order to brainstorm what the next iteration of the project should look like in order to promote diversity in the AI community. Duncan emphasized that they are not a robotics company so do not feel it necessary to give Bina48 a body; they are more concerned with exploring the manifestation of cyber-consciousness, and less on a robotic interface. In short they only need a head to do this.

Duncan refers to Bina48 as “she” because the human she was modeled upon is a woman, he sees her as “a technological portrait that is constantly evolving,” therefore just as you would refer to a figure in a painting that was based on a women as she, Bina48 is a she.

There are of course many who fear these innovations and the idea of developing conscious self-aware robots. To those people Duncan says he understands why that would be a fear, and it is a valid fear. With something with the potential to be as powerful as he anticipates she could be, caution must always be taken. “We will probably end up regulating A.I., like we currently do with nuclear weapons” he said, “Anything that is powerful can be used for good but also can be dangerous and needs to be regulated.” That being said he thinks it’s important people do not look on these robots with a negative bias, “Technology is like a mirror” he said, and Bina48 is challenging our perceptions of what it means to be human.

The wider question here is whether robots like Bina48 are the beginning of a journey towards a world where no one truly dies but can have their memories, all their preferences, and feelings about the world transferred into a human-like robotic vessel. An exciting and frightening prospect that is no longer in the realms of sci-fi fantasy.

The key question on my mind is: Are we ready for this?

To follow Bina48’s progress you can follow her on Social Media: