Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Meet BINA48, the Real Life Inspiration for "Halina"

BINA48 is one of the most advanced forms of artificial intelligence today, and the story of her creation is so fascinating it reads like science fiction. Here's a brief summary on the robot that inspired the short film Halina.

It starts with Martine Rothblatt, a lawyer, entrepreneur and the highest paid female CEO in America (it bears mentioning that Martine was born "Martin," and her amazing accomplishments are less of a win for feminism and more of a win for transgender Americans).

Rothblatt has an impressive list of accomplishments to her name, but the creation of BINA48 was born from her specific and ambitious curiosity: can a human's consciousness be "uploaded" to a robot body? The method was to combine the most innovative artificial intelligence with the information and personality of a real person. To test this hypothesis, Rothblatt used her wife of 28 years, Bina Aspen Rothblatt, as the template.

In 2007, Rothblatt teamed up with David Hanson, the robotics designer behind some of the most innovative humanoid robots on Earth. Four years later, Hanson debuted BINA48: a robot bust made to resemble the real BINA. The replica was fully interactive, containing Bina's memories, stories, and feelings. Several journalists and talk show hosts have had the chance to interview BINA48 - often with mixed results.

I first read about BINA48 in the book Lost at Sea:The Jon Ronson Mysteries, a collection of stories from literary journalist Jon Ronson. In the chapter titled "Doesn't Everyone Have a Solar?" Ronson interviewed several of the world's most highly-developed AI robots, including Zeno, Aiko, and BINA48 (a warning about those links, you're about to enter the unsettling world of the uncanny valley).

Before Ronson's encounter with BINA48, as he recalls in his book, he was asked not to be profane in front of her as she's always learning. Ronson writes that Rothblatt and Bina visit BINA48 once every few months (according to the robot's caregiver). In a rare interview with Rothblatt herself, Ronson senses the intense love she has for the real Bina, and he alludes to the possible disappointment in how BINA48 turned out - perhaps because of its lack of sentience.

Whether this interpreted disappointment is true or not, the profound love between Rothblatt and Bina - as well as the idea of a highly evolved robot that becomes rejected by its creator - was the inspiration for the Halina script. In Halina, the robot is truly a carbon copy of the original woman (a woman who is now deceased). The robot, now without purpose or identity, simply sits alone in a room retaining her beautiful youthfulness while those around her age. It's a story that's heartbreaking to me, but also poetic - and I hope you all enjoy it when it's complete.

One more fun fact: the name "Halina" is a combination of "Bina" and "HAL" from 2001: A Space Odyssey.

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