SXSW: Dangerous Innovation – The 4 Delusions of Martine Rothblatt

Martine Rothblatt is an extraordinary and accomplished woman. She is currently the highest paid female CEO in the USA, created Sirius Satellite Radio, is a highly qualified lawyer and astronomer who broke off her career to earn a PhD in medical ethics, has formed a global leading biotech company to save the life of her own daughter, and somehow found the time to become a leading advocate for transgenderism.


Her core belief is Transhumanism – the belief in and desire to transform the human condition by developing and making widely available technologies to develop and ‘enhance’ the human condition.


The main tentpoles of this new human future include:

  • Mindclones – the idea that we can and should create copies of our personalities that live on digital formats
  • Artificial Intelligence – Rothblatt’s vision has humans not only becoming immortal, but also can easily copyable while still living; imagine having a copy of yourself to do all your work while you goof off, or having a conversation with someone who is exactly like you in every way.
  • Artificial organs – Rothblatt’s organizations are advanced in developing pig-based organs to replace human ones, and sees a future where there would be enough to replace the hearts of everyone in America if needed


While this may seem like so much sci-fi, Rothblatt is closer to achieving these goals than you might think, and is as capable as anyone of getting there.


Yet Rothblatt’s vision of the future, according to many of the Isobar staffers present, is not universally popular. Why do Rothblatt’s ideas feel so intuitively wrong?


In my opinion, Rothblatt’s ideas are dangerous, untested and naïve.


The irony of Rothblatt’s delusions is they are founded on fundamental misunderstandings of humanity. This rose-tinted vision of what we really are is self-deceiving and utopian to the point of dishonesty.


She was unable in any real way to answer fundamental areas of objection to her plans:


Resources – Transhumanism has immortality, or extending human life unnaturally, as one of its fundamental tenets. In a world suffering from catastrophic overpopulation and over-consumption, how does the world deal with people living significantly longer, or even forever? Her answer was that we will colonize other planets and that the universe is plenty big enough for more of us was staggering. If a fundamental element of her belief system is founded on technologies and organizations that are nowhere near any attainable horizon, then that belief system is a house of cards.


The Democratization of Tech – Rothblatt’s ambition is to release as much of the new technology as possible to the open community, with the belief that as a species of collaborators, we will only deliver human augmentation that works in the best interests of all. While the internet can be a great force for good, every Google is balanced out by a Gamergate, every Kickstarter is balanced by a Silk Road. The notion that the Maker Community is populated by angels is the kind of notion you have if you spend too long at SXSW. That’s the time to go home.


Regulation – When questioned on the governance of the new technologies, Rothblatt, stated, with no hint of irony, that ‘Regulation will have a role to play’. This understatement belies the more fundamental truth that Regulation Always Fails. Considers some of the other seismic leaps in technology, and then think about how they have worked out for the human race as a whole:

  • We learn how to split the atom, and instead of boundless free energy, we are left with Hiroshima, 40 years of Cold War, and a host of rogue states such as North Korea, Iran and Israel holding the world hostage. Generations have grown up under the shadow of the bomb, with no end in site.
  • We develop the internal combustion engine, promising horseless locomotion for all. This leaves us with 50% of the total surface area of cities such as Los Angeles buried under the tarmac of roads and parking lots, and a global environmental catastrophe driven in large part by our addiction to cars


Martine Rothblatt is cresting the wave of human knowledge – there is no doubt that if she wasn’t developing these new capabilities, someone else would. The fact is that there is little that we can imagine that we cannot achieve.


However, when passion and vision is not leavened by reason, it becomes obsession. When an idea is all-consuming, it becomes a cult.


No matter what Martine Rothblatt’s motivations are, she is determined to open the Pandora’s box of the human condition at its most fundamental level.


In any event, immense credit to SXSW for bringing such an excellent and controversial speaker, and real fundamental issues to us. This is a debate which has only just begun.