Human is not limited to flesh
Interview with Martine Rothblatt
Martine Rothblatt – most definitely a thoughtleader. I’ve never met a person in my whole life before who was so clear about the most unimaginable things on earth. One of our blog readers commented: ”The amazing thing with Martine is that sheheit does as sheheit says … very admirable! Very, very far out …“. Nothing more to say …
we-mag: Since we are doing this interview for we-magazine my very first question would be what is your understanding of WE and has it changed over the decades?
Martine: My understanding of WE is that it is the collective consciousness of humanity. And yes it has changed over the decades. Many years ago I would have thought WE means just people who are in a room with me that I refer to grammatically as I, you, we, they. But now I understand better that through the information technologies such as even this Skype interview we are creating a collective consciousness of humanity. Collective consciousness is how I understand WE.
we-mag: You are very much involved in future projects other people cannot even think of or imagine. What are the driving forces, what are the core ideas behind your efforts?
Martine: I think the core ideas behind my efforts are to maintain a balance in my life between enjoying every day and trying to make the world a better place. With regard to enjoyment, one of the things which I enjoy is the intellectual stimulation of thinking about concepts such as cyber consciousness. And so the development of our cyberconsciousness program and the general concept of techno immortality is intellectually fascinating to me and therefore enjoyable. I also believe that to allow people to continue their life even after bodily death is doing a great thing for the world. It’s saving so many people: Almost 200.000 people die every single day unnecessarily so the more rapidly we can develop techno immortality, the more rapidly we can save millions and millions of lives – and that would make the world a better place.
we-mag: Why do you think it would make the world a better place? Many people already say there are enough people on the planet.
And what do you mean when you talk about cyber consciousness?
Martine: I think first of all that techno immortality will make the world a better place because all the people I know who had to suffer a bodily death – the vast majority of them did not want to die. A couple of weeks ago a good friend of mine, only forty-four years old, died of brain cancer. He did not want to die. He had a nice life, with nice family and friends. Technoimmortality would prevent this kind of waste and deep sorrow.
With regard to the people who say that there are already too many people on the world, I respectfully disagree in three different ways: First, if you go to places of the world which are more densely populated such as Hong Kong, I find those to be amongst the most pleasant and polite places in the world where people are enjoying their life and other parts of the world are very sparsely populated, so clearly there is room for many more physical bodies in the world. Secondly the earth is just an infinitesimal spec in the space that we have to expand. Dr. Gerard O’ Neil in the 1970’s explained very clearly how the use of huge orbiting space habitats could create earth-like environments in an orbit around the earth and the moon simply using resources from the moon and could enable a growth in the human population of up to 500 billion people – so a hundred times more physical bodies than we have right now. And third and finally – with regard to cyber consciousness, people take up basically no space at all, so the objection that too may physical bodies is never an objection to keeping somebody cybernetically alive.
we-mag: Talking about cyber consciousness, let’s take one of your projects which is about uploading one’s DNA on satellites. How do you think it will come back, how will it be recovered and become life again – or do you have another specification of what life is?
Martine: No, I think my specification of life is similar to the standard biological definition of life – which is something that grows, replicates, takes in energy from the environment and creates more organization. I also like very much the definition of life given by Erwin Schrödinger, which is that life is something which maintains order, in contravention of the second law of thermodynamics, which says that everything sort of dissembles. So those are both definitions of life.
Now the more interesting question to me is how about conscious life. There are great debates amongst philosophers about consciousness. My ap- proach is more a practical approach which is that I do not worry too much about trying to philosophically define consciousness, instead I take the point of view that if it feels like it’s conscious to most people. For those reasons for example, I believe dogs and cats and elephants are conscious. They may not have the same consciousness as people, but even all people don’t even have the same consciousness as each other.
I believe that we can develop consciousness in cyber space, in information technology because I believe consciousness is something that arises from an adequately complex pattern of connections amongst symbols; just like animals, including people – have vast networks of symbols inside their brains which are connected into even more complicated networks of patterns with neurons. I think we can replicate this in information technology hardware and we will be able to create cybernetic consciousness in this manner.
Your last part of the question about why does the Terasem Movement transmit the video of the memories and the video of the mannerism of the people who are depositing aspects of their consciousness with us – why do we transmit this out into space. I would say this is a small project, but it is sort of like a bottle in the ocean if you will. We believe that consciousness is precious, is beautiful, this is why we try to save it – and it is fact that the universe is itself a dangerous place.
Many times in the history of the earth, 90% or more of the specifies have been wiped out by either terrestrial or cosmic disasters, so by the constant transmitting of streams of consciousness into space, we are creating some kind of last hope if you will – that in the unlikely event that a catastrophe decimates the earth, and in the possibility that there is any other advanced technological civilization outside the earth, the beautiful consciousness that we’ve created on earth could be captured, put back together and re-instantiated in human life, in human consciousness off the earth.
we-mag: In what time frames are you thinking? Do you think in any time frames at all or are you just getting prepared?
Martine: Well, in terms of cyber consciousness – we are thinking of the time frames in the current century. I’m quite confident – based on the advances – that are being made in the software industry; we will see cyber consciousness that is persuasive to at least a substantial chunk of humanity during the current century. Whether it is 2030 like Ray Kurzweil thinks, or 2050 like some other people think or 2070 or 2080 – I don’t know. But sometime during the current century, I think it’s quite inevitable that cybernetic consciousness will arise and once it arises it will be rough at the edges. Just as human consciousness was rough at the edges as it began to become increasingly sophisticated through Stone Age peoples into modern peoples. So long as we continue developing technology sometime during the next hundred years we will see good cybernetic consciousness and maybe within a hundred or 200 years after that we would see cybernetic consciousness which would be persuasive to all but the fleshest individual. In other words – all would be persuasive, by definition, only flesh people can be conscious.
we-mag: When you think about the classical terms of biology, technology definitely is not a part of it. Do you think as technology emerges like you described it and it digs deeper and deeper in our lives, would this change or even end the human race as we know it?
Martine: No I don’t think it’s likely at all that technology will end the human race. In fact from the very beginning all that technology has done is extend the human race, quite the opposite. The human race has now grown to six billion plus persons its highest level ever, with the largest percentage of human the race ever in history living in comfort and all of this is due to technology. Within the span of just the last 15 years, the ability to contact any other human in the human race via a cellular telephone has gone from being the province of just a few thousand people to being more than half the humans in the world. At last count, there were more than three billion telephones in use each one of which has more computing power than the Apollo spacecraft that landed on the moon. So I really believe that technology is extending the human race, I believe technology is part and parcel of the human race. It is a tool, and humans have been a tool using species from their very beginnings.
we-mag: You described a lot of the good in your thoughts. What is the dark side – if you think about religion, culture. It does not really go along with it, does it?
Martine: I think a lot of it does. Most all religions, most all cultures, all of the major religions, all of the major cultures are entirely receptive of technology. All of the major religions use technology in almost every way to extend the reach of their means – their messages that they want to get into people’s minds. When you get to the very edges of technology there is always going to be controversy, as there is at the edge of almost anything. When you get to the one’s property you will get into dispute, if it’s somebody the next property over. And when you get to the edge of technology it is controversial!
There was a time when radio broadcasting was controversial, now the Vatican has its own radio station, and the Islamic world has many radio stations … I don’t think the bad is in the technology, the bad problem isn’t in the religion or culture either. The bad problem is that we do not yet have enough WE in the world, the bad problem is that we don’t yet all feel part of a collective consciousness of humanity. If we did when we hurt the other person we would feel the hurt ourselves.
And it is the mission of the Terasem Movement to try to promote to concept that diversity, a unity of all human beings is the most important objective. And that this unity through diversity can be best achieved through technology.
we-mag: But this would end up in a very, very complex system, wouldn’t it? We are hardly able to handle the complexity we have created right now.
Martine: Well I think actually we handle the complexity that we have right now remarkably well. Every day frankly I marvel at how people of basically average capability, people like me, you everybody are working together in this immense collective to have an economic system, a communication system, a food and exchange system that works pretty much flawlessly day in and day out. We are far away from chaos; we are far away from anarchy.
Now I will be the first person in the world to say that there are parts of the system that are broken. Now there are people starving, there are people being blown up, there are people being shot, there are people being killed, there are people being abused, there are people being enslaved – there are many bad things going on in the world. However; the reality is that for 90% of people this is not the case, 90% of people are waking up in the morning, they are able to have the food they need, they are able to have the water they need. They are not fearing for disease, they are not fearing for a bullet or a bomb. I think we have to be realistic and say to manage five billion out of six billion people, frankly this is a greater accomplishment than a musician, I love people like Beethoven they wrote such incredible symphonies, but I would say the day to day management of five billion people peaceably and happily is a greater accomplishment even than a Beethoven symphony.
we-mag: You are absolutely right, but I had a discussion just this morning with a German professor and we were talking about this complexity we have built. And he has the kind of feeling that the crises we are in right now has nothing to do with change, we are simply coming into a kind of situation where we cannot handle all this complexity anymore in order to make the right decisions. We just don’t know how everything is related to each an- other and so it is very, very hard to base good decisions on this complexity …
Martine: It is related to the question of the collective consciousness of humanity.
we-mag: Of course …
Martine: And my response to the German professor is that we have in fact become ever better at managing complexity. So well in fact, that we are able to operate autonomously because of the information technology systems that we have in place. If we all lived under a sort of fascist, Soviet command and control type of economy, I would agree with the professor that when you try and control everything in a pyramid fashion the complexity is overwhelming. But instead what we are developing is really a flat, horizontal world in which everything works on more of a peer-to-peer basis. This kind of peer-to-peer complexity is very scalable, in fact is infinitely scalable and easy to control.
To give just one example let’s take the internet that we use. In the old days every communicator had to be connected through some kind of a switch-board and there came a certain point when the complexity was too great, the switchboard operator could not plug all the plugs in all the holes. Now each internet server has a map of its local area, it exchanges packets of information, they are divided up. Yes things can like stall and stop but then can quickly reconstruct themselves and re-grow. So I believe one of the main points is that actually always that we building technology in our image, and our image is an organic image a cell-based image and that is the kind of technology that we are evolving – is an organic, peer-to-peer, cell based reconstructable technology.
we-mag: You created this term, transbeman, and you also just finished this movie. I was lucky enough to already see some parts of it, and I really liked it. So with this transhumanist movement you are pushing really into new areas and creating spaces of possible approaches and solutions to core problems of humanity. How did you get involved in all this, and do you see new kinds of sciences to be part of this transhumanism?
Martine: My first reading of the word transhumanist was as recent as around 2002 or 2003. I never heard the word before then, but I like the word very much probably because I consider myself a trans-person. By that I mean I like things which transcend boundaries that go on both sides of boundaries. In my work life I developed satellite communication systems that were all transnational and trans-bordered. I really looked at man made borders as being really arbitrary and impeding the growth of humanity.
In my own life I changed my gender, so I identify as transgendered and I am much happier to be not being categorized as either male or female. So when I first read around 2002/2003 this word transhuman, I said what a beautiful word because it allows humans to transcend limitations of biology. And this is fantastic because, sure biology is the cradle of mankind, but one does not have to stay in the cradle forever. I became quite supportive of transhumanism and the first book I read that really opened my eyes to the possibility of transhumanism was Ray Kurzweil’s book The Age of Spiritual Machines.
we-mag: So what is the purpose of this movie Transbeman. What is the idea behind it? I would say that the genre is science fiction when you see it but being more involved in what you are doing there is a bigger idea behind it, I guess. Could you tell us a little bit more and how are you trying to get this out, to spread the word out there?
Martine: Yes, certainly. I came up with this word transbeman, because there was one aspect of the transhuman culture that I did not like so much and this was the aspect of saying one for the goals of transhumanism was to make people smarter. To me the problem with the world is not that we are not smart enough – as we mentioned earlier in the interview I think that we are actually very smart and are doing an excellent job developing a better, better world for everybody. The problem with people is that we are not good enough, our hearts are not warm enough, we are not empathetic enough. These are things that do not come out of the transhuman-school; they come out of the transbeman-school which is a focus on creating a unity and diversity of all people, a connectivity of all people with the momentum of moving technology forward as rapidly as possible – so that’s the difference – transbeman is to make people better by making them more good, whereas transhuman is to try to make people better by making them smarter.
In terms of the film, I found that many people had never heard of these concepts that we could transcend limitations of the human body. As mentioned, even though I have been a techno- logist my whole life I never even heard of this until five/six years ago. So I thought that if I made a film that the positive message of diversity, unity and joyful immortality could get to many more people. I also thought that the film could begin the process of allowing people to understand that human is not limited to flesh.
To say that human is limited to flesh is a kind of racism, just like saying human is limited to European people. In fact, this was a view two or three hundred years ago. And whenever we try and demonize one group of people because of how they look it leads to a lot of killing and sadness in humanity and instead, if we respect people based upon this value it leads to a unifying of all people. So the movie Transbemanis meant to show us that even a person who is artificially created but who values life, that person too should be welcomed as a fellow human being.
we-mag: You just mentioned in the last question that you’ve changed your gender. You were born as a man, now you are a woman. You said you did it because you want to go over borders. But you can’t go back and forth … To me it is a very, very interesting story because you are still living with your family and with the wife you were married to before. Could you give us just a little insight in how you are dealing with this and how other people are dealing with it?
Martine: Yes – I have a book that I wrote that explains all of this called The Apartheid of Sex. The Apartheid of Sex I explained the division of everybody into either male or female is very artificial. It’s as artificial as to divide everybody into black people, white people, brown people, and yellow people. In fact there is a continuum of gender, just as there is a continuum of skin tone and a continuum of ethnicity. In fact this is very much of what I call the We of I. Inside all of us we have all genders and all ethnicities. I was being forced to live within a male gender identity simply because I was born with XY chromosomes and this resulted in me having male physiology and then I am brought up and acculturated as a male. But as I grew older through my teenage years and in my twenties I didn’t want to be trapped in a male identity. So I was able to change some parts of my body to be female, but other parts of me are still male. Certainly my chromosomes are still what they call male.
My mind, which is the most important sexual organ, is completely transgendered; you cannot categorize me either male or female In fact the first chapter in my book The Apartheid of Sex is titled Six Billion People, Six Billion Genders and I believe each and every person has in fact a unique gender. As far as the body goes, why bother to change the body? As a transhumanist, I believe the body is a canvas and people who alter their body are the revolutionary vanguard of the transhumanist movement. People who tattoo, who pierce, who change their sex – all of these things – I applaud all of these people for showing the rest of society the way that we are our thoughts not our bodies.
we-mag: What has changed in your surroundings, in your environment?
Martine: I think very little. I’m luckier than most people. I would say that most transgendered people receive very negative consequences from changing their sex. They lose their job, they lose their family, and many of them actually lose their life, and it’s horrible. In my case, I was very fortunate, that my parents were completely open, their interest was only for my happiness. We have four children now they are all adults but each of them was very open and each of them said that if this is what makes you happy.
My son asked me will you still be my dad, and I said of course, I will always be your dad. Then my younger daughter created the beautiful phrase, I love my dad, and she loves me. So there is no reason dad cannot be female, there is no reason that mom cannot be male and everything in between. And then you mentioned my partner Bina, I am so blissed I would say. It is more than blessed it is blissed, to be so happy, to have the love of my life for more than twentyfive years. If you ask either of us we say we see each other’s soul. What is the body? There is a thousand, maybe a million ways to make a body feel good.
we-mag: Most of the people who change their sex do not want to talk about it. Many of them hide it because they feel sorry or they do have regrets or they feel misunderstood by society. So I think it is very important if someone like you speaks so open about it and really gives your own thoughts …
Martine: It’s the reason why I wrote the book The Apartheid of Sex and also I created a Powerpoint slide show on the internet called From Transgendered to Transhuman and it explains how the transgender movement can inform the transhuman movement.
we-mag: Coming back to machine consciousness – you are trained as an attorney as well. In this role you are discuss- ing the possibilities of legal rights for conscious machines. What is it about and where will it lead in your mind?
Martine: In my mind it will lead to laws that will guarantee the human rights of people who do not have a physical body but their consciousness exists only in software, and in computer space.
We have over the past several years conducted colloquia and symposia of leading experts and lawyers. And a sort of consensus has emerged that artificial intelligence consciousness begins to evidence itself. In other words as there are software programs written that are so sophisticated that if you talk with it, you would say this is not just a fancy computer game, there is a person in there, there is a soul in there. That what ultimately will happen is that such cyber people will ask for human rights.
The reason why is that a cyber person will want to survive just like any human person will want to survive. Human rights are one of the tools we have to survive in this society, when somebody is being killed, if you have human rights you can say hey, stop, this is a violation of human rights, this is a violation of law. Of course, it does not always work, too many people are genocide and killed anyway, but everybody will agree that it is better to have human rights than not to have human rights.
The software people will recognize this fact, they will ask for human rights, it will go into the legal system and ultimately judges will refer the question to psychological experts, because the psychological expert is discipline, that’s a specialist on the mind. These scientific experts will be asked to tell the judge if this is a person or is this just a fancy game. As the cyber consciousness gets better and better, the psychiatrists will tell the judge, no this is a soul, this is a person, there is a real consciousness there.
At that point in time judges will begin to grant human rights one by one and then there will be social movements that will arise to change the laws of the country and finally a treaty that could cover the entire world to provide for the fact that cyber conscious people that meet a psychological criteria of persuasiveness are granted the same human rights as a flesh and blood person.
we-mag: Again, in what time frame do you think?
Martine: I think this will be much quicker than the time frame that the cyber consciousness will arise. So I would say, if I am talking about within a century for there to be persuasive cyber consciousness, it would take less than a half century after that for cyber consciousness to achieve its potential.
we-mag: It’s hard to imagine because currently you really can argue we don’t really have a clue how to create consciousness in machines. Do we even have reasonable intelligent machines? What is your take on this? Are you in agreement that perhaps quantum physics can help us in this way?
Martine: No, I don’t agree that we need to go into very exotic realms like quantum physics. I don’t agree with Roger Penrose that cyber consciousness is beyond engineering capability. In fact I think it is just a straight forward matter of developing adequately complex software that can create adequately complex patterns among a large array of symbols. In particular patterns which are similar to the way that people do in fact think. I think that we are making really great strides in this direction and as you interact with more and more intelligent machines, sure it is frustrating sometimes when you talking to a voice recognition machine – it’s frustrating.
But I know you agree with me that interacting with a human, especially in a government office, could be quite frustrating as well. I think it’s coming very quickly, and it is simply a matter of software engineering. The cognitive scientist who I think has a very good handle at the conceptual level is Douglas Hofstadter. Douglas Hofstadter for example in his latest book I am a Strange Loop makes a very clear and compelling case that consciousness is a network of patterns among symbols – that there are larger consciousnesses, and there are smaller consciousnesses and there are tiny consciousnesses and that as we continue to develop software engineering such as under the hierarchical schemes that Marvin Minsky has laid out in The Emotion Machine.
we-mag: My very last question Martine would be what is your dream project?
Martine: I have really three dream projects that I am working on right now. First of all I am trying very hard to cure one or two additional diseases. My main job is that I run a biotechnology company so 80 hours a week I am only working in my biotechnology company and we are trying to cure some forms of cancer, and some viral diseases. We have 400 really good people working in this company around the world and so my first dream project is to cure a couple of diseases we’re working on. My second dream project would be to publish a bestselling book on the transhumanist topic because I still think it is less than one percent of the world has even heard of the concept of transhumanism. So a bestselling book released in many languages would be accessible to more people. So that is my second dream project – to get a transhumanist bestseller out. My third dream project is to demonstrate, via the Terasem Movement projects, true cyber consciousness; to create persuasive sites for consciousness. These are my three dream projects.