H+ Conversation Framework Shifting—Martine Rothblatt’s Book

I’ve just finished reading Martine Rothblatt’s Virtually Human: The Promise—and the Peril—of Digital Immortality. In this post I won’t get into the details or strength of her case that in the next decade or two we will see “mindclones,” digital copies of our identities existing alongside “us”. Stepping back a bit, what struck me about this work, published by St. Martin’s Press, is the ease by which an expert like Rothblatt discusses a variety of issues, all of which assume virtual human existence in the form of “mindclones” coming soon. I am aware that Rothblatt and the Terasem Movement, with which she is associated, is viewed in some quarters as fanciful. But Rothblatt brings credentials to the conversation that cannot easily be dismissed. She has a PhD in medical ethics and is no stranger to the scientific field, having started and served as CEO of a medical biotechnology company, United Therapeutics. Indeed, Rothblatt may be overly optimistic about the technological possibilities and the timeframe for achieving some of them. But I am struck by how ready Rothblatt—and she’s not the only one—is to discuss questions “mindclones” raise about kinship, voting, rights, privacy, sexuality, and, of course, religion. We have moved to an ease with such discussions that is quite different from the conversation framework in place when I started seriously following human enhancement technology and related questions just over a decade ago. One final PS. Despite the subtitle, The Promise—and the Peril—of Digital Immortality, the book is scarce on the “peril” side of the equation. Rothblatt pushes hard for digital immortality, and her book fits well in the tradition established by Ray Kurzweil, who contributes a foreword to the book.

         

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