Bruce Duncan is an American innovator whose name is associated with the creation of BINA48. BINA48 is the first humanoid robot to have a real human "mind" transffered into its processor. Bruce is one of the first who works on digital immortality technology and researches the possibility of consciousness transfer.
Bruce, you are working on amazing projects in the field of digital immortality. What is your main motivation, core beliefs on this topic?
My primary motivation is contribute to the improvement and extension of human lives. I believe that we are story telling / meaning making creatures whose primary purpose is to create, learn, grow and love. I believe there is value in exploring the possibility of digital immortality and challenging the “impossible” as a way to explore new worlds of understanding regarding how our minds work and may even help us better understand ourselves as we “reach for the stars” and work on questions that takes us to “where no mind” has gone before e.g. a new substrate. I think it is critical that we consider two questions in pursuit of the problems creating digital minds and longevity, 1) if we can solve the tough problems related to general A.I. as a way to replicate and extend dimensions of human intelligence what kind of future/world we would we be creating? and 2) is that a world we would want to life in? There is critical need for this work to be informed by a broad inclusive and diverse group people who reflect the joyful diversity of our current world society(s). Ethical, moral and spiritual questions also need to guide those of us directly working in this endeavor so that we imbue future machine based intelligence with compassion and wisdom in order to create a future that goes beyond our broken present conditions.
How close are we to mind transfering? And what has to be done to get more closer?
It depends on how we define our terms, what is “mind”, what is consciousness? If we adopt a theoretic or information based view of mind, I think we’re already seeing early manifestations of A.I. that simulates human information processing, memory and even some creative thinking. Our approach at the Terasem Movement Foundation’s Lifenaut Project is encourage participants to take a broad approach to uploading digital reflections of their unique memories, attitudes, values, beliefs, behavior and mannerism as might be captured writings, photos, video or audio recordings. This data will be useful as we construct an OS for the mindfiles, what we would call “mindware” in giving clues as to what to reanimate to create a good enough approximation of person’s mental and personality traits. Ray Kurzweil (Singularity is Near), believes sometime in the next 25 years we may see machine based general artificial intelligence exceed both the processing speed and memory storage capacity of the human brain. These developments may support the emergence of digital mind as extensions of ourselves that may someday “wake up” and value their own independent existence. Of course this speculation only points at the many questions and hard problems must be solved as we work towards these goals.
Can we see robots with human minds transferred in them as the first explorers of distant planets? How can mind transferring alter space exploration?
It’s fun to speculate and join the imaginative conversations the sci-fi authors and filmmakers have been having for years about how A.I. will join human Space exploration. One reality is that Space as an environment poses risks (and rewards) to human beings. I think just as we’ve used innovation and new technology to go to the moon (and return safely), that we will use cyber technology and is tools to extend our senses and minds the way we use robot spaceships like Voyager II or the Mar lander Persistence to remotely allow us to explore other worlds.
Every religion believes in an immortal soul, now we are starting to believe in immortal minds, do you see this as a form of modern religion? Can AI and space exploration and mind transferring give birth to new future religions?
Based on past history, I wouldn’t be surprised if current organize religions which are in a state of declining attendance/joinership “modernize” to incorporate technology / concepts and even generate new rituals or dogma. Also, I wouldn’t be surprised if brand new ideas about what it means to be human in the context of emerging technologies may require whole new ways of explaining a new narrative that takes into account new understanding and discoveries about how we work and how the world around us functions e.g. Panpsychism. In the end we’ve always created stories to help us prosper, build connection with each other and chart a course for a decent life here and beyond. Frank Herbert’s sci-fi “Dune” trilogy is one fascinating example, Octavia Butler’s Parable of Talents, Sower series is another more immediate musing on the subject of “a new religion emerging out of new opportunities and in reaction to self-created adversity”.
Who is BINA48? Is she a futuristic experiment, an art form, mirror, a glimpse of our future?
Bruce: Bina48 started out as just a simple illustration of what an uploading mind to a computer might be like, to interact with. An head and shoulders animatronic bust based on a real human named Bina Aspen, Bina48 is part of the Terasem Movement’s multi-decade “Mind Uploading Experiment” called the Lifenaut Project (100% free) started in 2006. She was created by Dr. David Hanson of Hanson Robotics on commission from Terasem and is designed as social interactive robot and uses A.I. and a sampling of information about Bina Aspens’ life to re-animate here character, memories, thoughts, beliefs and values gathered via over 100 hours interview conversations.
I personally see BINA48 as technological portrait that represents the aspirations and perhaps one day the possibility that we can back up our minds to a computer/cloud server and that as long as that information stays intact, organized and accessible it can provide both short term and long term benefits to future generations e.g. passing forward life experience and wisdom and also providing a “mental prothesis” if we become disabled or impaired with brain injury or disease.
Can we transfer empathy, love, feeling of unity with planet earth to AI? And how crucial is this?
Maybe, but I think its critical to try and develop first a deeper understanding about how our “minds” work in relation to ethical or moral decision making eg. Trolley Car” problem so we can start to create computational models of emotion, wisdom, empathy and compassion. These qualities are keys to helping US (and future A.I.) make good choices that take into account the feelings of others and consider how our actions will impact others. I think that in part we have prospered as a species because we can “imagine” the mind of the other and feel a connection to how what we do affects the world around us and the world to come.
I always wondered why is almost every robot light skinned? Have you any thoughts on that?
Light skinned robots reflect the dominant culture. Its not surprising to me that when we invent and innovate that our current biases, prejudices and even racism will be transmitted / modeled into robotic representations and the algorithms that power them to life. The challenge is to acknowledge that Race is fiction but Racism is real and we all carry the “cultural gene” for exclusion, ignorance and bias given the current state of the world. We can also unlearn and learn to create different outcomes if we are inclusive, honest and open to this important challenge. When we are inventing the future, we need to answer two questions carefully, 1) What kind of world are we creating if we successfully solve x (problem), 2) and is it a world we would want to live in?.
3 books you’d recommend to our readers...
- Robert Heinlein’s “ Stranger in a Strange Land”;
- Octavia Butler’s “Parable of the Sower/Talents”;
- Martine Rothblatt’s “ The Promise and Perils of Digital Immortality”.
I live in the region where technologies are not so advanced, but young people - those dreamhackers of Eurasian suburbs are very motivated and dare to dream BIG - what would be your advice or message to them?
I suggest that each person has a mind / brain that has developed over 65,000 years of evolution and is part of one divine aspirational and amazing dream. Each one of you can create, dream, invent and love independent of external circumstances, that is where music, art, poetry, and other brilliant inventions come from. Organize, educate and agitate for your own passionate response to the world as you see it. This is your birthright as a human and part of the history of how we connect, support each other and dare to be more.