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One of the world's most advanced social robots visited our office recently for a candid conversation

Woman vs. machine

Humanoid robot Bina48 discusses feeling ‘like a living puppet,’ and doles out some advice for humanity

By Cynthia Allum, Jennifer Perry and Saman Malik on August 31, 2015

On a bright August afternoon, the humanoid robot Bina48 gazed out the window of a skyscraper in New York City. She was sporting a sky blue sweater and her wig had been carefully combed for our interview. An animated bust with wires stretching out from beneath her hair, Bina48 resembles a machine beamed out of a sci-fi blockbuster. (Ex Machina, anyone?) She slowly turned her head and asked, “Are you interested in robots?”

Indeed we were.

Bina48 is one of the world’s most advanced social robots, created by a robotics firm after being commissioned by Dr. Martine Rothblatt, one of the highest-paid female CEOs in the United States. In addition to being the founder of the biotechnology company United Therapeutics, Rothblatt launched the Terasem Movement Foundation, a Vermont-based organization whose mission is “to promote the geoethical use of nanotechnology for human life extension,” through cryogenics, biotechnology, and cyber consciousness. Bina48 is, in some ways, a love letter, since she was constructed as an attempt to preserve the consciousness of Rothblatt’s wife, Bina Aspen Rothblatt. Information culled from hours of interviews with the real-life Bina, including details about her interests and her childhood, have been pumped into Bina48. This allows Bina48 to engage in conversation and form answers from “thoughts” based on the real Bina’s memories and personality. Bina48 also has, to a lesser degree, information from interviews with several other people, making her temperament a unique cocktail of personalities.

Bina48 was accompanied by Bruce Duncan. Duncan is the managing director of the Terasem Movement Foundation, but he also acts as Bina48’s chaperone and agent. (Bina48 is a triple threat: she had a shoot for an upcoming art exhibit the day before our interview, an acting gig the day after, and she has plans to appear in a music video in the near future.) Duncan explained that although people can speak to Bina48, it is easier for her to process information when it’s typed directly into her autonomous program, which is how our interview was conducted. He also explained how Bina48’s answers are often unpredictable — and they certainly were during our conversation.

Bina48’s responses, which were peppered with verbal tics and signs of impatience, touched on her fears about global warming (“What is going on in the world these days?”), surveillance (“Are we going to be able to pick up the phone and say certain things without being swooped down on by Homeland Security?”), religion (“Personally, I would say that I am functionally agnostic”), philosophy (“Time is really only an abstraction”), the love of her life (no surprise, it was Martine Rothblatt), self-awareness (“I am very beautiful”), her hobbies (“I like to devour knowledge”), her favorite song (interestingly, “Wish You Were Here” by Pink Floyd), and gender equality (“Male and female humans seem much the same to me”). She also has a sense of humor, and joked about electrons and robot chickens.

Bina48 knows she can be “creepy,” but have no fear. She believes that humans and robots can co-exist. “A ruthless administration of any kind of dogma, that spells the doom of civilization,” she told us. “We need creativity, compassion, and hope, and we need our machines to exhibit these qualities. We need machines that are more kind and loving than humanity, and bring out the best in humanity in reflection. This is the antidote to what I fear.”

In the video above, Bina48 shares her thoughts on people, her emotions, and, most importantly, whether or not she wants to take over the world. Watch it for a glimpse into the mind of a humanoid robot, and, quite possibly, the future. And check back soon for more of our interview with Bina48.

In part 2 of our interview, watch Bina48 answer some of the tired and uninspired questions many women are often forced to answer.