Visionary Entrepreneur Martine Rothblatt on Manufacturing Organs, our Carbon Neutral Imperative, and the Quest for Immortality

By Liam Satre-Meloy
We caught up with Martine on cloning pigs and 3D printing organs, building the largest “net zero” office in the world, her recent Guinness Book of World Records award, and why Bina48, her wife’s AI replica, might be conscious.

Martine Rothblatt is a visionary entrepreneur, futurist, philosopher, and businesswoman. After pioneering both satellite radio (Sirius XM) and a progenitor of GPS technology (GeoStar Corp), Martine founded medical biotech company United Therapeutics. Along the way, she earned a Ph.D. in medical ethics, changed genders, created a billion-dollar company, and became the highest-paid female CEO in the country and a leading voice in the transhumanist movement. Now Martine has another moonshot goal: to create an unlimited supply of 3D-printed, transplantable organs by the end of the next decade.

United Therapeutics... After her daughter Jenesis was diagnosed with life-threatening pulmonary hypertension, Martine immersed herself in biology and pharmacology and then founded United Therapeutics to develop the first FDA-approved drug to treat the disease (and is now used by thousands of patients worldwide).

The Unisphere... Is United Therapeutics’ new headquarters, located in Silver Spring, Maryland. It’s the largest Net Zero Energy building in the world, with 100% of its energy renewably generated through innovative technologies (like solar, geothermal, electrochromic glass, daylight harvesting, and thermal pools). “We’re hoping that this building shows people that we have the technology and the resources to stop adding CO2 to the atmosphere right now — we don’t have to wait decades to do it. All that’s missing is willpower.”

Overhauling regulation... When development of the Unisphere hit a regulatory roadblock — an antiquated state law dealing with the location of geo wells — Martine engaged a lobbyist to help navigate Maryland’s political landscape and eventually succeeded in updating state regulations, paving the way for future developers to achieve net-zero in urban environments.

Our organ disease problem... With a handful of life-saving drugs on offer through UT, Martine turned her attention to replacing defective and diseased organs, a problem that kills more than 120,000 people a year — more than Alzheimer’s, breast cancer, or prostate cancer.

The solutions... Martine is developing cutting edge biotechnologies to massively improve the organ transplant system. She’s starting with hearts, kidneys, and lungs, and taking three innovative technological approaches:

(1) Restoring damaged organs... In the case of lungs and hearts, more than 50% of donor organs are thrown away because they don’t meet FDA safety standards. Martine has developed a technology to bring "dead" organ tissue back to life in a lab, and she just opened a new facility at the Mayo Clinic to do it. (If you know anyone suffering from an incurable lung disease, UT is currently conducting their first clinical trial.)

(2) Harvesting pig organs... Martine has also developing genetically-modified pig organs, which are roughly the same shape and size as our organs, for eventual use in humans. UT is currently seeking FDA approval for the first pig-to-human kidney transplant and is hopeful for a decision by 2021.

(3) 3D printing... As if the first two solutions weren't impressive enough, Martine is now 3D printing organs with stem cells harvested from the future recipient. “We do this inside a bioreactor and grow the organ until it’s functioning just like it would in a body.” Among the advantages of this approach is that the recipient will not have to take immunosuppressive drugs.

Transporting transplants... Last year, Martine earned a certification in the Guinness Book of World Records for the farthest distance traveled by electric helicopter (and she did it in less than 12 months with $2M in funding). Now, she’s beginning production of a fleet of autonomous helicopters that will be used to deliver manufactured organs to hospitals around the US (pending FAA approval). UT has also partnered with Chinese transportation company EHang to develop “autonomous aeriel vehicles” for automated organ deliveries in Asia.

In search of immortality... When Martine’s not hard at work saving human lives, she’s coming up with ways to extend them indefinitely. Her non-profit, Terasem Movement Foundation, supports scientific research and development in cryogenics, biotechnology, and cyber consciousness, and has recently expanded to developing countries like Argentina and Kenya. “I think the quest for digital immortality isn’t just a western thing. It’s a quest that people everywhere have.”

Bina48... One of Terasem’s most visible spokespeople is an android replica of Martine’s wife, Bina. “Bina 48 recently received a major upgrade to her neural net as well as to the micromachines that enable her to replicate the facial movements that people like you and I have. She’s also recently been mated with an iBOT from Deka (Dean Kamen’s robotics venture) so she’s been able to achieve mobility.”

Emulating consciousness... Martine believes Bina48 shows “some flashes of consciousness,” but thinks it's substantially different from what we experience as humans. "People who spend time around animals know they have a sense of who they are, an interior life of sorts. There’s many different flavors of consciousness.” And what we’re seeing emerge with robots like Bina48 is a new flavor.

Regulating conscious machines... Given the complicated ethics, Martine is convinced the FDA and similar agencies outside the US must take charge of regulating the creation of conscious machines. “When you’re creating consciousness, you’re creating life. And I don’t think societies are going to allow the creation of tortured mental lives, even without a body.”

Terasem LifeSaver... If you’re inspired by Bina48, Terasem has an offering for you: they’ll digitally encode your consciousness (well, a proxy) and cryogenically store your DNA. “So that one day in the future, a new body can be grown for you from your cells and your consciousness can be uploaded into it.” And in anticipation of an eventual global cataclysm, Terasem will even broadcast your files into deep space so that a sufficiently technologically-advanced civilization may reconstitute you (if they so choose!). Yes, this is all real!

Organizing principles for life... “Diversity, unity, joy, and techno-immortality.” Martine’s always looking for “different ways of thinking, different approaches to problem-solving, and different cultural beliefs and values.” But within that diversity, she looks to find “common ground so that we can work together to change the world for the better of all.”

The quest for immortality... “I do not believe people are foreordained to die. I think it’s sad, like a library going up in flames. So that’s the fourth principle: the quest for people to stay happily alive, in all of their diversity, with the support of united societies, for as long they want.”

Two paths for entrepreneurs... “You can sell a future to people for its discounted present value and support yourself on others’ money. Or you can make your own money by creating products that sell right now, in the near term, even if they’re crude versions of your ultimate product. And then bootstrap your way up to greater level of entrepreneurial success.”

What keeps her up at night... Two words: climate change. “I don’t think enough people are talking about the fact that it’s practical to create a zero-carbon footprint economy right now — during the 2020s. We don’t have to wait until 2050 or 2070, by which time many millions of people will likely have needlessly died due to the consequences of climate change.”

Connect with Martine... On Instagram @transbinary or Twitter: @skybiome

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