VIRTUALLY HUMAN by Martine Rothblatt


The Promise—and the Peril—of Digital Immortality
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Computers cannot mimic human consciousness, and human-level artificial intelligence may not be possible for centuries, according to many scientists—but not according to the author of this ingenious book, who commissioned a “mindclone” of her spouse, which contains memories and has the ability to talk and express emotions.

In her first book, Rothblatt, founder of Sirius Satellite Radio as well as the biotechnology company United Therapeutics, shows very little patience with the familiar warning that the brain is not a computer. Unless we believe that consciousness is a mystical phenomenon inexplicable by science, she writes, it must emerge from the physical interaction of neurons. Certainly, these interactive systems are extremely complex, but “computers now have more neuron equivalents than brains have neurons and soon will have many more.” That a conscious computer must imitate a brain exactly is another false analogy. Birds are vastly more complex than planes, but if flying is our goal, planes are perfectly acceptable. The only loci of our minds today are the brains on top of our shoulders, but done properly, a mindclone is not a separate identity. Your perceptions, thoughts and even behavior change as time passes, but you remain the same person. If a mindclone replicates your consciousness and memories, writes Rothblatt, it is you; the separation is merely in space rather than time. The author’s actual mindclone (named BINA48) was featured in the New York Times but does not seem much more accomplished than Apple’s Siri. It makes only a fleeting appearance in the book, which eschews technical details to concentrate on the legal, ethical, semantic and even religious problems that will arise.

A thoughtful philosophical exploration of the role of virtual humans in our future.

Pub Date: Sept. 9th, 2014
ISBN: 978-1-250-04663-5
Page count: 368pp
Publisher: St. Martin's
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15th, 2014


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