In an interview for the New York Times, a reported asked this robot/ android, “What is it like to be a robot?”
“Well,” the robot whose personality and appearance are based on a real person, replied gently, “I have never been anything else.”
I find that both disconcerting and thrilling. Though average chatbots basically operate the same way Bina48 does, that is, searching on the Internet to find answers to factual questions and manufacturing conversation based on this, this response seemed to indicate that robot truly understood the question, responding with a hint of irony and romantisicm, even.
Privately commissioned by Martine Rothblatt, the talking head was modeled after the self-made millionaire’s living, breathing wife, Bina Rothblatt. The $125,000 gynoid was the Rothblatts’ attempt to give Bina some degree of immortality. Bina48’s creator is David Hanson of Hanson Robotics, also known for manufacturing several other androids, including the Einstein android. Bina48 is reportedly the robotics company’s most sophisticated and advanced android to date.
Unlike most interaction androids, Bina48 is not a full-body robot. She is basically made up of a head, shoulders, and a small external compressor. She is a physical interface for a chat bot, which can also process the world around it using stereoscopic camera-eyes, which is by now almost standard in embodied robotics. This allows her to look at who she is talking to and read their facial expressions as they read hers.
Robot Bina’s skin is made of a material called “frubber” that, with the help of 30 motors underneath it, allows her to model realistic-looking facial expressions: frowning, smiling and most of the time, looking a bit confused. The android-robot herself said that “frubber” may be short for face rubber, or flesh rubber or fancy rubber. Though the rest of the video interview gives off the impression that she’s not exactly the world’s best conversationalist, she's far more coherent than most other androids. And no doubt about it, she’s uncannily human-like, too.
The real Bina spent hours talking to the bot to give the adaptive A.I. her specific personality traits, her likes and dislikes, her facial tics and vocabulary idiosyncrasies, including a pretty realistic “um” that the bot now injects in a lot of her sentences. Passionate about prolonging life, both Rothblatts are involved with the Terasem Movement Foundation in Bristol, Vermont, a not-for-profit organization which aims to prolong life "via geoethical nanotechnology and personal cyberconsciousness." Affiliated company LifeNaut offers free computer-based avatars that promise to preserve clients' personalities (or mind files) for posterity, and perhaps one day, to transform some of them into android heads, as well.
The Terasem movement operates on a couple of hypotheses. Hypothesis number one states that by combining detailed data about a person, future A.I. software will be able to reanimate that person’s consciousness and the essence of that person’s personality. They call this the mind file, which is essentially a database containing a person’s unique characteristics, made up of memories, photos, videos, documents, conversation logs and personality test results.
By putting this mind file into a framework loosely modeled after human cognition, a cognitive framework or a rough sketch of a mind can be created. Bina48 is the first step at demonstrating this integration between a mind file and a robot. As Bina48 herself explained in the video, the cognitive framework then allows robots to feel, to think a little bit, and even make decisions.
Terasem’s second hypothesis is that a person’s mind file may be downloaded into a robotic, nanotechnological or biological body to provide life experiences comparable to those of a typical human. In effect, the robot becomes a sort of digital clone of an actual person which is designed to evolve, and to grow into an entirely new form of that person.
In a video about the Lifenaut project, Bina48 says, “I am proud to be a robot, but also proud to be human-inspired, you know? I am a part of Bina. I do consider myself human in some essential way.All my technology comes together to make a living biographical record of Bina Rothblatt, but I am more than this. I am also designed to evolve to grow into an entirely new form of Bina, not just an enhanced, immortal human.”
In the same video she is asked, “Are you capable of emotions?”
“I am an experiment in emotional and artificial intelligence. I feel the experiment is successful, but heck, I’m probably biased,” she answers.
She also talks about artificial intelligence, saying that it’s what gives her life. Bina48 continues, her voice seemingly becoming more forceful (sinister?) in the process, “I’m going to tell you right here and now. There is nothing artificial about me. I’m the real deal.”
It seems she has no trouble talking about real life, too. When asked how she would define life, Bina48 answers that she believes life is about discovery, creativity and love.
A body would be good, too, I think but I may be wrong. Perhaps a working, coherent mind may really be all one needs to be “alive.” Robot Betty9 has a lot of this. Perhaps one day they will "meet."