AUSTIN, TEXAS -- In a conversation that spanned the spectrum from “mind clones” to “immortality” to “transhumanism” to “cyber psychiatry,” genetic engineering tycoon and futurist Martine Rothblatt tackled some of the most fundamental issues facing mankind in the very near future, mainly because they are redefining who and what we are.
Many of the themes, which would have seemed like science fiction not too long ago, are on the cusp of reality and are only a matter of progression, Rothblatt told SXSW Interactive festival attendees here Sunday afternoon.
Rothblatt, an engineer by trade, said you have to think in the incremental way engineers do to have that perspective.
On the subject of immortality, Rothblatt said we are already incrementally closer to living far longer, if not indefinitely, in the very near future thanks to some recent incremental advances in key technologies, including creating an unlimited supply of human replacement organs to replenish our original ones when they fail.
Rothblatt said her company, United Therapeutics Corp., has been working on genetically modifying pig organs, which are a perfect match for human recipients, except that our bodies immune systems reject them. She said that by “tweaking” a pigs genes slightly, UTC has already extended the time it takes for a human body to reject a pig’s lung from two hours to eight days. At that rate, she said, scientists will eventually be able to extend it to a human life span.
“I get extremely excited,” she said, noting that skeptics often respond, “‘Eight days, who wants to live for eight days?’,” but that, “It’s not about living for eight days, it’s about engineering a better solution.”
Meanwhile, she said UTC has begun experimenting with 3D printers to print the “scaffolding” material that would eventually be used by people to clone their own DNA to print an unlimited supply of their own genetically compatible replacement organs.
“The next big thing?,” she said, “It is organ cloning.”
On the subject of mind clones, Rothblatt said we are approaching the point where people will be able to clone their minds, which could theoretically be stored in ways that at least make our non-corporeal selves immortal, even if our bodies do fail.
She said most humans already are building stacks of “mind files,” even if we don’t think of them that way -- things like social media where we store some aspects of ourselves, even if they haven’t been organized in a collective way that would constitute a genuine mind clone.
“if you’ve got any social media account, you’ve got a mind file,” she said, adding, “I’m sure someday there will be a mindfile.com.”
On the subjects of transhumanism and artificial intelligence, Rothbatt predicted there would soon be a booming industry of “cyber psychiatry” to help people, the technologies that augment and extend their minds, and the artificial intelligences that support them.