Updated: Jun 1, 2022
by felicia rembrandt
Something otherworldly is happening in America.
The February edition of Harper’s Magazine featured an examination of attempts to create sealed human biospheres. The author, Jessica Camille Aguirre, wondered whether “we as a species would be compelled to seek some new terrain, a foreign place where our appetites might grow, expanding and expanding, like the universe itself.”
The March issue followed up with Hari Kunzru commenting on dreams of “the betterment of humankind through the conquest of space”. Elon Musk, through SpaceX, and Jeff Bezos, through Blue Origin, are both intent on developing technologies allowing humans to leave the earth for good. As Kunzru observes, “For good or ill, they are powerful enough to impose their dreams on the rest of us.”
An article on cryptocurrency in the same issue noted that Miami “has long seemed intent on denying the reality of death. A transhumanist capital …it has more recently become a center for nootropics and life-extension startups, echoing new resident Peter Thiel’s public stance against ‘the ideology of the inevitability of the death of every individual’.”
American male billionaires are planning to jump ship.
When the planet explodes in fire and flood largely due to alpha males’ careless avarice, their presumed right to acquire whatever their ever- expanding appetites desire, they’ll be sealed up in capsules heading for green pastures in an unknown elsewhere.
The major obstacle is the human body, that relic from pre-digital times, that passé flesh bag that needs constant nutrients and fluids, that excretes inconvenient waste, that wears out over time – so BCE! so first millennium! – which is why new Canadian Martine Rothblatt, sci fi fan, virtual reality gamer and “person” who confessed he changes his gender as often as he changes his hair, has been busily developing “mindcloning” tech and associated sales propaganda.
In 2014 the father of both transgenderism and transhumanism outlined the future for humanity in his book, Virtually Human – The Promise and the Peril of Digital Immortality. The title is overlong, as there is no real peril in this vision of a new world where humans in flesh bodies, in digital form in the cloud, and in robot bodies all coexist. A new human trinity. If “God” can be father, son and holy spirit, then so can men created in his image.
The first advance over life as an organic body, the simplest and cheapest, is the mindclone, which is a brain made of computer software filled with the “thoughts, recollections, feelings, beliefs, attitudes, preferences and values” (10) of the donor human mind. Rothblatt envisions people choosing this both as a way to extend themselves across two platforms (one flesh, one digital) and as a form of immortality. The more expensive advance will be to deposit the mindfile into a robotic body.
How will the contents of our mind be duplicated? Not from a Vulcan mindmeld. Not even from the brain itself through some as yet undiscovered form of photocopying, but simply from all the online data we have created through emails, SM messages, photos, tweets, instaposts, pinterest posts, LinkedIn bios,etc.
Rothblatt argues that we already exist in digital form through our various online postings and all that remains is the relatively simple task of collating our data into a mindfile. A mindclone will be “one part mindfile software to collect data and one part mindware software to process that data” (5). Mindware will then create a psychology of the clone based on the evidence offered by our digital files. Presto, we have a clone.
And even more presto, entrepreneurs stand to make millions: “the mass marketing of a relatively simple, accessible, and affordable means for Grandma, through her mindclone, to stick around for graduations that will happen several decades from now represents the real money” (11).
Rothblatt is much more interested in discussing ways to create suitable mindware then he is in the seemingly simple construction of the necessary mindclones. But I think this preliminary construct is the biggest problem. Think of it as the appearance vs reality problem, which is both a problem philosophers have been grappling with since they first learned to question and a necessary life skill. We must be able to tell the difference between a snake and a rope, a log and a crocodile.
When we interact with other people, in real life and even more so in social media, we perform a version of ourselves we want the world to see. Even in 2014 people were aware that a social media persona might bear very little relation to the real person behind it. We post the positive. We posture. Cowards make threats of violence, the timid show off.
But all social interaction involves roles we play. If you don’t believe that, try farting or picking your nose next time you’re with friends. People who experience the death of a partner or child know how quickly their social circle slims down – few people can bear to be around such profound reality as a weeping and grieving human. And the bereaved feel terrible pressure to resume their social persona as soon as possible.
Maybe the only time we are radically authentic is when we lie awake in the solitude of dawn, alone with our fears and insecurities, our depressions, our despair. These moments do not appear on our digital platforms. We may not even share them later, over breakfast, with our intimate others. If we do, we can have recourse only to the flatness, the paleness of words. Words about feelings or about thoughts are not the same as the feelings or thoughts themselves.
So all the world is a stage and we but actors, but when the curtain falls and the audience disappears and we are alone on the boards, do we drop the performance? And are we alone? It’s more than likely we are confronted then with an inner world of voices representing anyone who has ever had an influence over us – the voices of critical parents, of peers who resented or envied us, of judgemental teachers. Our minds are typically far from empty -- but none of those voices make an appearance in our conversations with others.
What about the lies we tell ourselves, the performance of ourselves to ourselves? Pretending we are what we’re not, denying we are what we are. Much of this is not accessible to our conscious minds; none of it is accessible to our social media personas.
Rothblatt shows himself to be aware of this several chapters into the book when he discusses constructing mindware that can keep certain things secret, other things “unconscious”. But for the purpose of compiling mindfiles for our mindclone, he is willing to accept that representations of reality and reality are the same thing.
“If it walks like a duck and talks like a duck, it probably is a duck –” this commonplace is meant to be a lesson in reality. If a duck should pretend to be something other than a duck, we can have recourse to our senses for a reality check. Rothblatt would use it to validate illusion: if you dress up a machine (or a fox) in duck feathers, bill and feet and teach it to quack, then it is a duck. To plausibly appear to be a duck is to be a duck. And, ultimately, it doesn’t matter – as he explains in the section entitled “There are Doubles, but no Duplicates” (74).
This is also the “philosophy” of gender ideology. Dress a man up in “woman-costume” and give him walk and talk lessons, and he becomes a women. All that matters (or did in 2014) is that he “pass” as a woman. The reality that he is male-sexed in every cell of his body, and that his personality has been created under the powerful influence of the kind of social conditioning brought to bear on male people only, is irrelevant.
So at the individual level, I and my digital persona are one and the same, he says. But at the species level, he is also saying consciousness and the appearance of consciousness are one and the same.
As he writes, “If a mind clone phenomenologically appears to be conscious, then he or she very probably is a conscious being with a subjective experience of the world”(42).
A mind clone that gives the appearance of being conscious is conscious -- and therefore human.
Rothblatt knows of criticism of his thesis that the appearance of consciousness is consciousness. In a later chapter he quotes the contemporary philosopher of mind, consciousness and language, John Searle:
“The essence of consciousness is that it consists of inner qualitative, subjective mental processes. You don’t guarantee the duplications of those processes by duplicating the observable external behavioural effect of those processes … To try to create consciousness by trying to create a machine that behaves as
if it were conscious is similarly irrelevant because the behaviour by itself is irrelevant” (Searle in Rothblatt, 129)
But he doesn’t engage with this criticism in his certainty that mindclones are conscious. (In his later virtual talk at the University of Victoria’s “Moving Trans Forward” conference he points out that software that can “recapitulate consciousness” will also be needed and concedes that it doesn’t yet exist.)
Who will judge the humanity of any given mindclone? Rothblatt favours an idea first suggested by Alan Turing, “that software was humanly conscious if it successfully passed itself off to humans as being humanly conscious” (18). He proposes a consensus of three or more experts in the field, such as psychologists or ethicists: “…if others, especially experts in the mental health, see so much of themselves in a mind clone as to say ‘that one is human,’ then that one is human”(43).
This ignores the fact that neither psychologists nor any other mental health professional’s remit is to judge the totality of consciousness. There are no experts in the field.
I am reminded again of transgender ideology, and its early and frequent insistence that men in makeup and dresses could “pass” as women. Women protested loudly and just as frequently that we could tell a man from a woman. Were our protestations as “experts” – surely women are experts on women -- enough to stop the craze? Not at all – TRA’s simply decided that passing was not necessary after all.
This is a highly likely scenario in the case of transhumanism as well. The men with the money pushing both these ideologies on common people from above will see to it that a jury will be created who will accept mindclones as human. And if that should prove impossible, they’ll change the goalposts. Perhaps, as men with “special identities” now claim to be better women than women, mindclones will claim to be better humans than humans.
Rothblatt is already pre-empting the discrimination he forecasts against mindclones by arguing they must be given human rights, because “if we don’t treat cyberconscious mindclones like the living counterparts they will be, they will become very, very angry” (6). This too should remind us of trans ideologues, who claim to be the most oppressed group on the planet, while receiving support from almost all media, governments, academic institutions, major corporations, and financial institutions.
The trans movement has proven itself to be, not oppressed, but an extension of the oppressor class. Men with “special identities” have all the power that dominant well-off white males have and are extending that power into places they never could before they claimed to be women. This will be true of mindclones as well, as they will be extensions of people who can afford to create them and who dream of immortality.
The underclasses will be forced to give way to them, as women are forced to give way to men who claim to be women. Just as women’s protests against the erosions of our rights is labelled phobic oppression, resistance against mindclones will be repackaged and sold as oppression.
I am beginning to think that not only is the trans movement being used to dissociate us from our bodies and to teach us to see our bodies as consumable products in preparation for transhumanism, but that the trans movement is an experiment being conducted to research human reactions to the impossible, and from there, ways to manipulate those reactions. Pseudo men and faux women are in that sense scouts for the army of digital/robotic clones to come.
Our ability to tell male from female and to tell appearance from reality are both necessary for survival. If we can be manipulated and coerced into believing we do not have the skill to tell man from woman, then maybe we can be manipulated into believing that appearance is reality.
Rothblatt says in passing in his chapter on kinship (reconfigured to include plastic and software spouses and children) that “since the mindclones are the continuation of their biological selves, they are either male or female or transgendered” (203). This is curious. Since the concept of “transgender” relies on a misfit between the body and the mind, how can it persist after the body has decayed and all that’s left is the mindclone? Without bodies, we can all choose whether to be recorded as male or female.
Given the definition of “woman” in gender speak as the submissive sexual partner, women thinking of achieving immortality through a mindclone might do well to take a page from female gamers and assign themselves male. Failure to take that precaution could subject them to an eternity of sexual harassment.
But not to worry, we can all be “birthing parent”, robotic son and holy ghost-in-the-cloud in the new virtual world order where actual human birth will be kept to a minimum and women’s role as mother will be finally unnecessary. There will then be only one role for women, as the object of male sexual pleasure. (Rothblatt assures readers that robots will be equipped with the full suite of human-like senses.)
The big winners will be data harvesters like Google, Amazon and Facebook. The profits to “Big Data” from selling our data to advertisers are mere chump change compared to what they’ll make when they sell our data back to us for our mindclones. And even more insidious, all that data from the billions of humans who have contributed to it can be stripped from the original creators, aggregated and sold by the terabyte to makers of “from-scratch” digital/robotic beings.
As Rothblatt elaborates:
“Imagine the potential for the company or group of entrepreneurs who can figure out how to capture and organize all that data that has been collected and posted about you (and by you) over the years and deliver it to you neatly organized to upload into your mindfile with mindware. Certainly this is a business opportunity that won’t be overlooked by data-collection companies” (59).
Transgenderism may be just the precursor to transhumanism, teaching us to cannibalize humanity for Midas’ dreams of gold.
Image: Screen Capture https://www.ted.com/talks/martine_rothblatt_my_daughter_my_wife_our_robot_and_the_quest_for_immortality
What Rothblatt is demonstrating is that, like Victor Frankenstein, he wants to create human beings – albeit in plastic and steel and software format. But all that tech can create is a very “lifelike” doll. While people have witnessed the last sputtering out of consciousness since time immemorial, no one has yet seen it bloom into being. Regardless of what he calls it, a mindclone must come to life to be alive.
And here is the most insidious aspect of his plan. When life is severed from biology, there are no markers to indicate whether life is present. No one will ever know whether the life-like mindclones in robotic bodies are alive or not. When “grandma” has passed over, having paid heftily to transfer her consciousness to her mindfile housed in a robot her kids can keep in a kitchen corner, she can’t shout from the grave – get rid of that doll, it’s not me, I’m dead!
This is the perfect scam, its fakery unprovable. And we homo sapiens may end up extinguishing ourselves as we replace real people with insentient robots because we stopped caring about the difference between the real and the image.
All quotations are from:
Rothblatt, Martine. Virtually Human The Promise – and the Peril – of Digital Immortality, St. Martin’s Press: New York, 2014.