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The Trans-Everything CEO


UT is now in expansion mode, investing in a range of therapies all explicitly aimed at using blue-sky technology to extend life. With Kurzweil, who also sits on the UT board, Martine has invested in research, based at MIT, into stem-cell-like cancer therapies. And her friend Craig Venter, who was among the first scientists to sequence the human genome, has joined her project to raise pigs for organ transplantation into human subjects. Martine herself owns a pig farm called Revivacor, and expects to conduct a successful pig-human transplant by the end of the decade. Last year she got her pilot’s license, so that she might speedily transport pig organs to waiting human patients. (People with pulmonary hypertension often die waiting for lung transplants.) UT launched its research into cross-species, “xeno-transplantation” largely under the name Lung LLC.

Bristol, Vermont, is a tiny crossroads in the Green Mountains, defined on its southern edge by the deep and fast-­moving New Haven River. There was a waterfall pouring into a clear pool when I visited, and teenage boys were jumping off low cliffs into the river below. It was as beautiful a spot on Earth as I’ve ever seen.

It is here that Martine and Bina have chosen to establish a major outpost of Terasem, their organization devoted to achieving immortality and “cyber-consciousness” through cryogenics and AI. Bristol, which looks like a 19th-century painting, seems an odd place to found a futurist organization, but Martine and Bina love Vermont. One of their four homes is here—it’s Bina’s favorite, according to one of her daughters, because she loves to garden, no matter what their country neighbors may think about Martine, or the talking robot she keeps in a garage nearby, or the helicopter she has taken to landing on their bucolic lawn.

In fact, the whole reason that I’m in Vermont is that her new book, Virtually Human: The Promise—and the Peril—of Digital Immortality, is in a sense another coming out—not as a woman or a transgender activist or a start-up artist, but as a philosopher, a purveyor of the transhumanist vision that she shares with a certain avid subset of the tech elite but has so far eluded most everyone else. It’s not just Martine who believes that technology will soon enable humans to prolong their lives indefinitely. Kurzweil, who is a director of engineering at Google (which has just established a new company, Calico, devoted to life extension), is one of the nation’s most prominent popularizers of the idea of digital immortality, and Peter Thiel, the founder of PayPal, has contributed more than $3.5 million of his own money to ending aging.

On one level, these futurists are simply pushing an inarguable point: Technology has improved human existence immeasurably, and will continue to: penicillin, blood transfusions, organ transplants, arthroscopic surgery, MRI machines. What excites the technologists now is the prospect of intelligent gadgets, which know things and can talk to one another and make judgments for themselves, crossing the threshold into the body and transforming the human organism itself. Martine rhapsodizes about the possibility of millions of nano-robots swimming through living human bodies, directed wirelessly, cleaning up impurities and attending to diseases at the cellular level. Kurzweil has imagined every atom in the physical universe functioning like computer code, making the universe itself a single, giant computer. In all of these visions, AI is the tool that will usher this future in, an innovation that transhumanists believe will quickly outgrow the power of the human brain and evolve into self-replicating and self-­improving machines—unlike anything the world has seen since the rise of the human race.

Martine has been an ardent fan of these ideas since she first read Kurzweil’s The Age of Spiritual Machines, and since then has played something like a supporting role—a fellow traveler among transhumanists rather than a first-order visionary. Her new book is an effort to place herself among her heroes, by offering not new strategies for achieving a transhumanist future but practical ethical advice for living in one. Partly, she’s taken that path because she is already taking that future for granted. Soon, software will have consciousness, she told me, comparing the intelligence of Google cars to that of insects. Within a few years, AI will surpass dogs and cats. And eventually, she says, they will be able to say, “Martine, I’m aware of myself. I know I’m software. I’m sure you know you’re flesh and bone. I know there are things that I can’t do that you can do, but I still really value experiencing reality. I still really value reading, watching, traveling, and playing games. I still really love talking. I really love putting myself into a sleep cycle and waking up and feeling like I’m reborn each day.”


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