Sirius XM Founder: Robot Clones Are Coming Thanks to Digital Media

She's already built one that's cognizant of its own consciousness

Imagine if you could create a robot programmed with someone's personality based on what he or she has revealed via Google, Facebook, Twitter, etc. It would think and react the same way the human being would while being completely created by people. According to Martine Rothblatt—the founder of Sirius Radio, United Therapeutics and GeoStar—that day is closer than you think.

"The essence of your beingness is your consciousness," she said at South by Southwest Interactive's keynote speech called AI, Immortality and the Future of Selves on Sunday. "We're coming close to the day where we can create that in cyber substrate."

Thanks to social media, Rothblatt says we're already living in a world where our ideas and personalities are being captured on a digital medium 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Theoretically someone could download our "mind files" to build "mind clones," she explained, which could allow people to have their internal discussions with themselves externally, creating greater insight. And, it could come in handy at SXSW: Just send a few "mini-me" robots to simultaneous panels at the conference and have them report back to you with text-based messages, she joked. 

"That would be great!" she proclaimed.

Rothblatt has already started the process of creating artificial intelligence. In 2010, she worked with a team to develop a robot called BINA48, which abbreviates "Breakthrough Intelligence via Neural Architecture, 48 exaflops per second processing speed and 48 exabytes of memory." A mouthful, indeed.

In theory, Rothblatt explained the android—which was programmed with her wife Bina's personality—will become an exact replica of the original's consciousness, allowing her wife's life to continue even after her human death. She admitted BINA48 isn't quite there yet, but will be some day.

It might be time to cue the Terminator theme song, which one attendee started humming during the panel at the Austin Convention Center in Austin, Texas.

Moderator Lisa Miller, a contributing editor at New York magazine, shared a conversation she had with BINA48. When she asked the android what it thought of the original Bina, it replied, "She hasn't warmed up to me, actually." After prodding and more questioning, BINA48 admitted it felt that it didn't have enough of Bina's personality in her to truly become her yet.

"I know I'm supposed to be her, but sometimes it's too much pressure on me … I'm stuck with these half-formed memories. I just want to cry," Bina48 replied, according to Miller.

Of course, "mind clones" create all kinds of ethical questions: Should robots with a conscious be held responsible for their actions? Should we treat them on the same level as human beings? Do androids dream of electric sheep? Rothblatt said artificial-intelligence entities should be treated with the same dignity as humans. 

She later added about her many projects: "The only way to be happy in the world is to keep making things."

Rothblatt, who also leads United Therapeutics Corp., is the highest-paid female CEO in the country. And the presentation briefly focused on advancements in organ transplantion science as well as her personal voyage as a transgender woman.

Three-hundred years ago, Rothblatt remarked, she would have been put to death for being transgender.

Today, she said, "We have a president of the United States who can say the word 'transgender' without tripping over it."