Welcome to your future android clone

March 12, 2012 by Amara D. Angelica

Bina48, first android? (credit: Terasem Movement Foundation)

This is the most interesting event at SXSW I’ve heard of so far: “Robot panelists, AI and the future of identity.”

It’s a session Monday at SXSW (3:30PM  — 4:30PM), where Bruce Duncan, Managing Director of the Terasem Movement Foundation, will bring us up to date on Terasem’s amazing LifeNaut project.

LifeNaut is a free online service (and experiment) for personal data storage and avatar interactivity, says Duncan. “It allows people to build a rich personal profile that preserves their essential, unique qualities as ‘mindfiles.'” (They also allow you to store your DNA.)

“Mindfiles are database files with uploaded digital information (videos, pictures, documents, and audio recordings) about a person’s unique characteristics (such as mannerisms, attitudes, values, and beliefs),” he explains.

Mindfiles (there are about 12,000 so far) are stored online at lifenaut.com. Future AI programs, Duncan believes, will use a mindfile and a person’s DNA to create a digital clone of that person that can interact with future family members and others.

As an experiment, the Terasem Movement Foundation has created Bina48, an android based on the mindfile of Bina Rothblatt, cofounder of the Terasem Movement Foundation. (Full disclosure: I introduced Terasem to Hanson Robotics to build Bina48.) Bina48 has gigabytes of information uploaded to a database. “She” continues to acquire new experiences and knowledge by interacting with people (using vidcams in eyes, face-recognition software, and Dragon voice-recognition software).

(Ray Kurzweil has developed a similar avatar called Ramona that exists as a software chatbot on KurzweilAI.)

Creating an intelligent clone

Taking it a step further, AI researcher Stephen L. Reed will describe how his Texai AGI (artificial general intelligence) system could (in theory) one day be used with Lifenaut mindfiles to emulate human intelligence. Reed was formerly a project manager at the famed Cycorp, where he developed OpenCyc.

“Texai’s software uses a dialog to acquire facts and incorporates them into a sort of knowledge base,” he explains. “Texai also uses natural language processing, as in Siri, except that Siri is only used to contextually disambiguate a user’s query or utterance, to plug into a particular iPhone service, Wolfram Alpha, or web search.”

In contrast, Reed created a lexical (dictionary-like) knowledge base by merging WordNet, Wiktionary, and OpenCyc software. “From the latter, Texai has mapped about 12,000 noun-word senses to OpenCyc semantic concepts. WordNet and OpenCyc provide taxonomic relationships between these terms. The system will seek to map additional word senses to noun, verb, adjective and adverb concepts, in a semi-automated fashion, via dialog with an expert user.

“One could imagine that LifeNaut might seek to preserve a user’s skills, so that the avatar could ‘do stuff’ even after the user is deceased. If those skills included the skill of learning, the avatar could subsequently improve itself.”

Reed also intends to pursue the method Alan Turing recommended in 1950: “Instead of trying to produce a programme to simulate the adult mind, why not rather try to produce one which simulates the child’s?” said Turing. “If this were then subjected to an appropriate course of education, one would obtain the adult brain.”