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Bina48: Robotic head lets woman 'live' forever

Bina48 is a robotic head enshrining the personality of a real woman. As a New York Times reporter learns, its chat chops are a work in progress.

Bina48 is still trying to catch up to its real-life counterpart.
Bina48 is still trying to catch up to its real-life counterpart. Video screenshot by Tim Hornyak/CNET

If there's anything worse than imagining that your ornery homeroom teacher has come back to haunt you, it's imagining that she's come back as a robotic head. One that can never die.

Bina48 is an interactive robotic head whose appearance and personality are based on those of a real woman, Bina Rothblatt (I'm not implying Rothblatt is ornery or a teacher, but her uncanny doppelganger reminds me of a severe former nun I had in grade school).

The bot was wrought by android wizard David Hanson of Hanson Robotics, known for its Einstein android. It contains 30 servomotors covered by rubber skin.

The bot even admits to wanting to be more like the real Bina.

Bina48 can link to the Internet to retrieve information and chat with users by referencing dozens of hours of interviews with the human Bina. In a crude fashion, it enshrines her personality and allows her to exist beyond her years in robot form. The bot even admits to wanting to be more like the real Bina.

As seen in The New York Times interview in the video below, however, it has underwhelming conversational abilities, typical of android heads and chatbots. Its movements can be jerky, even zombielike, evoking the dreaded Uncanny Valley, a design issue that can make humanoid robots and characters repugnant.

Bina48's backstory, though, is interesting. According to the Times' Amy Harmon, Hanson created the $125,000 mecha-bust of Rothblatt for her spouse, millionaire entrepreneur Martine Rothblatt in an attempt to give Bina some degree of immortality.

The Rothblatts are passionate about prolonging life. Martine is involved with the Terasem Movement, which aims to prolong life "via geoethical nanotechnology and personal cyberconsciousness." Affiliated company LifeNaut offers computer-based avatars that promise to preserve clients' personalities for posterity.

Bina48 isn't the first android to be based on a real woman--the Actroid and Geminoid projects in Japan are based on real people as well. But Bina48's aim of recreating someone's appearance, personality, and memories (similar to Hanson's Philip K. Dick android) is provocative. When millionaire entrepreneurs meet science fiction, fun things happen.

(Via Geekosystem)