Now You Can Clone Grandma — April Fool’s Joke . . . or Not?


Q. I am very close with my 100-year-old grandmother, Emily. She is a remarkable, accomplished woman who went to college (which was rare in her time) and became a successful brain surgeon. She is also a very talented artist. I visit her every week and we talk for hours. Despite the fact that she is sharp-witted, creative, and absolutely brilliant, she has some severe health impairments, and I’m not sure how long she’ll be around. I read somewhere that companies are replicating dead loved ones with robot clones. Do you know if this is real, out of a sci fi movie, or an outlandish dream I had that seemed real? Thanks for your help!

A. Although it is April Fool’s Day and what you mention seems like an intriguing sci fi movie plot, I think what you read is really in the works! According to a recent article in Motherboard titled, ​“Companies Want to Replicate Your Dead Loved Ones With Robot Clones,” many struggle with grief and moving on after the death of someone well-loved, and companies are working to develop robot clones to recreate the personalities and mannerisms of those who are deceased.

According to the article, “Many grieving people feel an emotional connection to things that represent dead loved ones, such as headstones, urns, and shrines, according to grief counselors. In the future, people may take that phenomenon to stunning new heights: Artificial intelligence experts predict that humans will replace dead relatives with synthetic robot clones, complete with a digital copy of that person’s brain.”

Terasem Movement, a research foundation that aims to transfer human consciousness to computers and robots, has already created thousands of highly detailed “mind clones” to log the memories, values, and attitudes of specific people. Using the data, scientists created one of the world’s most socially advanced robots, a replica of Terasem Movement founder Martine Rothblatt’s wife, Bina Aspen, called Bina48, which sells for roughly $150,000.

Bina48 was created using video interview transcripts, laser scanning life mask technology, face recognition, artificial intelligence, and voice recognition technologies. She was designed to be a social robot that can interact based on information, memories, values, and beliefs collected about an actual person. Curiosity about Bina48 and other robots continues to capture the imagination and inspiration of people around the world. She has been featured in the New York Times Science Section, GQ Magazine, NPR and National Geographic Magazine since she “came to life” in 2010. Pretty incredible, huh?

You Can Create a MindFile at No Cost

Currently, at least 56,000 people have handed over information to create mindfiles, a web-based storage space for preserving “one’s unique and essential characteristics for the future,” according to Lifenaut, a branch of the Terasem Movement that gathers human personality data for free. The goal is to capture a person’s attitudes, beliefs, and memories, and create a database that one day will be uploaded to a robot or holograph, according to the Lifenaut website. Everything down to a person’s mannerisms and quirks can be recreated.
Why would one want a have a robot clone of oneself? According to the Motherboard article, there are several reasons:

  • Some people like the idea of living forever.
  • Others want to document themselves as a part of human history.
  • Some hope to pass on an artistic project or genealogical information to offspring.
  • Some will use it to “memorialize” and “communicate with” the dead.

Robot Clones Could Be Slightly More Affordable in the Future

A more advanced version of robots like Bina48 could hit the market within 10 or 20 years for roughly $25,000 to $30,000, for a variety of uses, including replicating dead loved ones, executives at the Terasem Movement predict.

Google Follows Suit

In a related effort, the search engine giant, Google, has been granted a patent for a robot they developed in cooperation with Boston Dynamics (owned by Google) that can duplicate a personality. The patent says that the robot personality could replicate the robot’s owner, ‘a deceased loved one,’ or ‘a celebrity.’ The robot could use information from a person’s mobile devices such a calendar information, emails, texts messages, call logs, internet browsing history, and even someone’s TV viewing schedule, to determine a personality to take on that would suit the user. In addition, the robot is designed to negotiate outdoor, rough terrain, and can even drive a car!

Strange and Extreme Ways to Grieve for Deceased Loved Ones

Robert Zucker, a grief counselor and author of The Journey Through Grief and Loss, suggests that there are many ways of grieving that are strange and extreme. He states that when it comes to technology such as robot clones, “as long as it doesn’t inhibit the person from moving on with his or her life in a healthy way—maybe it could work for somebody.”

Tech experts admit it will probably take decades before robot reincarnation becomes socially acceptable, and a more mainstream form of memorialization.
Zucker warns that we should embrace the things that make us human—even pain. He states that, “If people believe they can skip over grief, they’re losing an opportunity. It teaches us about life and love. And it’s part of the human condition.”

Letting Family Members Know You Want to Be Cloned

What if you created a MindFile and like the option of robot cloning in the future? Or, if when you die, you want to be cremated, have already paid for your funeral, or want your organs donated? How would your loved ones know if you haven’t indicated your wishes in your Advance Medical Directive?

Our proprietary 4-Needs Advance Medical Directive™ enables you to set forth your preferences with regard to what you want for yourself, including organ donation, funeral arrangements, and disposition of remains. The document also accomplishes several essential things. In your 4-Needs Advance Medical Directive™, you can appoint an agent and give that person the power to consent to medical and health care decisions on your behalf. This person can decide whether to withhold or withdraw a specific medical treatment or course of treatment when you are incapable of making or communicating an informed decision yourself. Our 4-Needs Advance Medical Directive™  also contains a proprietary Long-Term Care Directive™  that allows you to address numerous issues that arise if and when long-term care is needed.  You can also indicate your wishes concerning the use of artificial or extraordinary measures to prolong your life in the event of a terminal illness or injury.

If you have not done Incapacity Planning (including our 4-Needs Advance Medical Directive™  and Financial Power of Attorney), Estate Planning, or Long-Term Care Planning, or if you have a loved one who is nearing the need for long-term care or already receiving long-term care, please us to schedule your appointment for our no-cost initial consultation:

Fairfax Elder Law: 703-691-1888
Fredericksburg Elder Law: 540-479-1435
Rockville Elder Law: 301-519-8041
DC Elder Law: 202-587-2797

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