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Q&a With Futurist Martine Rothblatt

By Technology Review

October 22, 2014

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In an interview, satellite radio pioneer and futurist Martine Rothblatt says she believes there is little doubt humans will eventually invent ways to create virtual people and fully digital consciousnesses. However, she worries that unless ethical frameworks are developed, these great inventions could become new tools for oppression and tyranny.

Oppression is important to Rothblatt, who was born a man before transitioning to being a woman. One of her greatest fears is the rise of machine consciousnesses also will mark the rise of "cyber-conscious slaves." "Slavery is profitable. But I think we'd regret it," Rothblatt says. "We'd spend hundreds of years trying to dig ourselves out."

Rothblatt addresses these and other ethical issues surrounding the potential rise of intelligent machines and virtual persons in her new book, "Virtually Human: The Promise – and the Peril – of Digital Immortality." One of the key aspects of the book is the rise of virtual humans.

Rothblatt has long been on the forefront of efforts to find ways to digitize the human mind: she owns a robot, Bina48, that serves as a robotic simulacrum of her wife, and is a backer of the Terasem Movement Foundation and a service called Lifenaut, which enables users to create a chat-bot version of themselves by uploading pictures, videos, and their opinions.

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