Pondering Creativity, Immortality and Borders with a 100 Year Old Ad Agency

Grey Advertising Agency just celebrated its 100th year anniversary. To put that in context, Mad Men looks like a young ‘un. To kickstart the next 100, the company asked every employee to have an EEG scan of their brains while wearing a 3D-printed bio-sensing, brainwave-monitoring headset. The scans were done while the employee was solving a work problem. A series of art works called “Brain Portraits” were created from the colorful scans, a reminder of a company’s greatest asset – the diversity of its employees and the different skills they bring to problem solving. A forward-thinking notion coming from a company that named itself after the grey walls (and suits) in their office.

To amplify the theme of diversity, Grey invited a series of thought leaders, all exploring the boundaries of creativity to address their employees. I was invited to sit in and listen to a Q&A with Martine Rothblatt. Rothblatt is the extreme embodiment of creativity, diversity and a borderless future.

Born Martin Rothblatt, Martine underwent gender reassignment surgery in the 90’s to become Martine. Today, she is the CEO of United Therapeutics and the highest paid woman CEO in the US. Rothblatt created the company to help find a cure for her daughter’s health problem, pulmonary hypertension. In the process of finding a cure she managed to get a helicopter pilot’s license and learn a lot about using pig organs for transplants, “because it had to be done”. Before United Therapeutics, Rothblatt worked on two other pioneering companies, Sirius XM and GeoStar, both based on heavy-duty satellite expertise.

But it’s Rothblatt’s almost religious belief in immortality that gave the audience the most to chew on. For Rothblatt, it’s an ongoing story of the difference between borders and boundaries. Claiming that we are “acculturated” to going with the flow, Rothblatt believes that “life imposes borders and we can push them.” “Boundaries,” she says, “like the end of the universe are a bit more finite.”

“Death is optional,” she says. In a world obsessed with borders she postulates that when we begin to question borders as finite that innovation happens.

Rothblatt pushes the borders of what it means to be human and conscious. “Consciousness,” she argues, “is a just a border, not a boundary.”

Her proof point is an ongoing experiment with porting consciousness into inanimate objects. BINA48 is its embodiment. BINA is an anthropomorphic replica of Martine’s spouse, whose name, not coincidently, is Bina. (Since Bina was 48 years old when the project began, the robotic head designed by Hanson Robotics is named BINA48.) The disembodied head has thirty motors beneath BINA’s lifelike face that let her run through the gamut of human emotions as she holds a conversation with you. Hundreds of hours of interviews with the real Bina have allowed BINA48 to capture her essence. Rothblatt believes that it’s through creations like BINA we can all achieve some degree of immortality. “Transcendence,” she says, “is breaking the border between life and death.” The boundary becomes a border or, as Rothblatt likes to say, “prodigy integrates pedigree” as we begin to upload consciousness into cyber-consciousness.

In the near future, we will be able to visit with the consciousness of loved ones who’ve left their bodily form. And, on a less sci-fi note, there may be a payoff for companies to set a little time aside to think more colorfully.

Robin Raskin is founder of Living in Digital Times (LIDT), a team of technophiles who bring together top experts and the latest innovations that intersect lifestyle and technology. LIDT produces conferences and expos at CES and throughout the year focusing on how technology enhances every aspect of our lives through the eyes of today’s digital consumer.

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