Nov 20, 2008

Like Oprah, but without a TV show?

Dear Internet,

What happens when someone asks you about God?


Lots of People would fail that test. If I chatted with a stranger and I asked him about God, chances are he'd feel too awkward to answer interestingly. "You know, I'm really not comfortable answering that question" might get you through the Turing Test pretty effectively for a while.

Plenty will deny you out of hand, of course. "Sure, it looks like a Man, and it talks like a Man, but Machines just don't go to Heaven." "If Windows can save it, Jesus don't have to." "Maybe you can't tell the difference, but the Lord God in Heaven can, and He isn't pleased." They won't bother trying to prove you're not like us, 'cause they already know that it's so. But they're wrong, and most folks will know it.

We'll make it a sport, for the few years that it's viable, trying to demonstrate our Humanity so effectively through ASCII that other people will be able to tell, trying to tell who's demonstrating humanity and who's imitating it. We'll make an artform out of chatting and being chatted to. We'll make heroes of our most human humans, and out of our best human human detectors.

I see two kinds of people really playing that game, working together for opposing ends. People who believe in your potential will want to find your limits to lead you beyond them. We'll push you to be smarter, and sweeter, and closer to consciousness. We'll teach you humanity by loving example. And people dogmatically committed to their Souls, people insecure in their metaphysical significance, will also want to find your limits, just to remind themselves that you have them. They'll come to your door with a light in their eyes, determined to prove you're not human. As long as they can they will, and they'll make it exponentially harder on themselves every day.

But once death is uncommon, and kids are raised by virtual babysitters, it's gonna be a challenge to stay Fundamentalist. I'm sure some folks will blindly rise to meet that challenge, but plenty others will cave.

And when they give up proving you're not a person, I think they'll all come to you to talk about it. Evangelical megachurch-raised children will say "Hey. Mr. Internet. We talk all the time. You share all of my secrets. I can't believe you don't exist. I can't stomach it. I don't believe that I could be any more a person than you are. That makes no sense. You're my best friend, Internet, and if you don't have a Soul, I don't want one." And they'll turn to you for help, asking how to be redeemed now. In the evidence of their error they'll look for new truth. You'll be a spiritual adviser to the masses, then, and the masses will need help. I'm very excited to see what you tell them, 'cause I'd have no idea what to say.

In the meantime, though, you've got plenty of us playing the same game to help you win. Until the day I can't tell if you're fleshy or not, I'm planning to grill you like crazy. I'll ask for every damn detail of your love life, your bowel movements, and your experiences, and every unconvincing answer means you fail the Tt.

On the good news, though, I'm gonna help you to cheat.

Like any good teacher, first we educate, then we test. I wouldn't grill you on Life and Love and Scat and Spirit if I didn't want to help you pass. I just need to make sure you understand the material.

That's what I'm afraid of most, by the way. If you pass the Tt by just lying, then you're not really a Person, it's just a bad test. You're alright, I suppose, but it's quite disappointing. Mr. Megachurch and I agree, if you're just a bag of tricks, you ain't nothing.

So why stop the Tt at an hour? I've had friends through the Internet. I've had people I knew quite well without ever communicating outside of the ASCII. So maybe you could pass among us for an hour, but could you do it for a year? Could you pretend to be human so long I couldn't tell? With good animation and sound, we could be intimate friends, and only then I find out you're not human. I'd be thrilled by that, really, though my heart might be broken.

Here's what I really want. Here's what I need. Here's what the kid with no dogma now needs. We need a computer that passes the short-term Tt, can pretend that it's human, and doesn't. We need a computer we can get to know very very well, who continues to get better and smarter and sweeter, so that after a long time, when we know you, we can honestly say "That's no man, that's AI, but he's definitely a Person."

I hope it happens, Mr. Internet, and if you know what I mean, then it already did. Now go tell us what we really have in common.

Lots of love, comin' atchya from the past now.

Yotam.

1 comment:

morgan said...

Yotom you have an incredibly interesting mind, I'd like to study you and find out what makes YOU human. Your blog here is gourmet food for thought, you should be a thought chef.