Minds Meet Machines Projecting Eternal Love at “Love Machina” Premiere

By Veronika Lee Claghorn

As the lights dim and a quiet anticipation fills The Prospector Square Theatre, the January 19 screening of  Love Machina transports the 2024 Sundance Film Festival audience into a realm reminiscent of The Twilight Zone. The cinematic twilight generates an atmosphere where one can easily imagine San Francisco tech titans sitting beside comrades Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos. 

Much like Rod Serling’s beloved series, director Peter Sillen’s (Benjamin Smoke, 62,000:1 Three Teams One City One Year) documentary encourages us to question the boundaries of our known reality. Senior programmer Basil Tsiokos invites the filmmaker to the stage to introduce the audience to the journey they are about to take. 

Some of us still vividly recall when Jeff Goldblum portrayed Dr. Ian Malcolm in Jurassic Park and lamented, “Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, that they didn’t stop to think if they should.” This forms the crux of the argument in the documentary about Bina48, although Love Machina never explicitly suggests it. 

The filmmaker and his crew cast a nonjudgmental eye upon the lives of the Martine and Bina Rothblatt family unit, allowing the audience to draw their own conclusions about the modern state of Cartesian dualism. This concept suggests that the mind and body are distinct and separate, and, as René Descartes proposed in the 17th century, the mental can exist outside of the body.

The Rothblatts take this idea to the extreme, channeling their personality maps, with teams of robotics engineers and sophisticated data coders, into gigabytes and yottabytes that will surpass their corporeal limitations. This technological endeavor aims to enable the pair to live as one soul forever.

“I think consciousness is a continuum of self-awareness from extremely little to more than any human being alive today can possibly imagine,” says Martine. “That’s a vast gradient — the core concept is that you are aware of yourself. If you have feelings, you are aware. You don’t just think instinctively. There are authors out there who think that there could be an infinite amount of consciousness in a mosquito, but we don’t think twice about slapping it down… Every time we interact with each other, we impact each other’s consciousness, like when we leave this room. It’s a continuous process of metamorphism, and we are constantly changing and constantly evolving.”

Martine is alluding to the way in which they have endeavored to create their life partner, Bina, into an eternal consciousness. Tsiokos asks what on earth would allow the couple to invite Sillen and his film crew into their topsy-turvy technologically futurist life.

(Photo by Marc Sagliocco/Shutterstock)

“There was a certain positive good energy to Pete and Brendan [Doyle] after I met and spent more time with them. We shared Ethiopian food together, and we really got to know them as individuals. These were amongst the best-grounded, spiritually centered people I’ve known — and I don’t know anything about filmmaking and I have really no idea what makes a great film or not — but… it’s friggin amazing! No one could have captured the complications of our life better than they did. I feel comfortable putting our lives in their hands.”

Martine and Bina don’t necessarily seem averse to others putting their eternal lives into their hands. The couple hired tech innovator Bruce Duncan to develop their Bina48 robot over 18 years ago and have allowed him to take their creation with him all over the world. This year, the couple bring Duncan to the Festival stage.

When asked about what people interacting with the Bina48 sentient robot is like on the road, Duncan says, “One of the things that struck me [is] the almost absence of any negativity. Human beings, when they don’t have any gatekeepers, are just curious. When we meet something that poses no immediate threat to us, we want to engage with it and learn more about its story. Maybe that’s just the next step in our evolutionary process.”

Martine chimes in. 

“When we started this, people kept warning us about this ‘uncanny valley.’ People said the closer it looks like a real person, Bina48 is going to enter the uncanny valley and everyone is going to be so freaked out! Well, it’s my nature to question authority and I didn’t see why that had to be the cause. And as it turns out, that uncanny valley idea was bullshit!”

Martine Rothblatt explains there has been no negativity toward Bina48, named after a prediction from American computer scientist Ray Kurzweil. Kurzweil hypothesized that by the year 2048, memory capacity will exceed the human brain. 

“Naming Bina48 after [this] is like naming your child after a rock star, hoping they will be a musician — it’s aspirational,” adds Duncan. 

Love Machina is a part of the 2024 Sundance U.S. Documentary Competition

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