Is AI the Next Phase of Human Evolution?

Laura Ling visits Bina48, a robot who claims she can think and speak for herself.

The Vermont countryside provides a beautiful backdrop to the headquarters of the Terasem Movement Foundation, where Bruce Duncan is busy working on changing the future as we know it. Seeker Stories correspondent, Laura Ling, visited Terasem and Duncan to get a sense of what could be around the corner in artificial intelligence.

There, Ling met Bina48, a social robot considered to be one of the most advanced of her kind in the world. She runs on a type of software called a character engine, which allows her to interact with humans at an unprecedented level. It may even allow her to evolve.

Bina48 is based on a real human named Bina Rothblatt, who underwent over 80 hours of interviews to document her life experiences and memories. That information was then coded into Bina48, who uses Rothblatt's experiences, as well as she claims her own creative thoughts, to engage.

As Terasem sees success with Bina48, Duncan is at work developing LifeNaut. "LifeNaut is a decades long experiment in uploading the human mind to new forms for one day transferring it to a computer or a robot." Users can choose to create a profile of themselves, capture their experiences and memories by video, as well as preserve their DNA, and perhaps one day build a new, artificial version of themselves.

"We may see that this was a point when human beings started to use their technology to become broader than just a biological species. We may become cyber sapiens at some point," adds Duncan. "We're taking a very broad brush stroke on defining what consciousness is. We think it's anything that expresses your mannerisms, attitudes, values, beliefs, even your behavior, any of that information that is captured in digital form, for example a video of a picture or even maybe a favorite song that you like."

If robots can develop a consciousness, what does that mean in terms of good and evil, corruption and morals? Could robots go rogue? Could there be Frankenstein?

"I think all powerful technologies have the potential for a destruction in great misuse," said Duncan. "So I think it's very much a human question for politicians, for citizens and democracies to have on their minds, which is how can we ensure that our technology reflects the best of us."

Special thanks to Part2 Pictures.