“For me, one of the strange takeaways of thinking so much about artificial intelligence is this feeling of how complex it is to sit across a table from someone and communicate with body language, tone, and rhythm and all of these things. What happens when those conversations are working out well is that we’re willing to move the conversation in ways that allows us to be sort of perpetually startling to one another… You learn someone through small surprises.”—Brian Christian, author of The Most Human Human
The Most Human HumanBrian Christian
The fourth episode of Dogeared Radio. Interview with Brian Christian on his new book The Most Human Human: What Talking with Computers Teaches Us About What It Means to Be Alive.
“Perhaps the fetishization of analytical thinking, and the concomitant denigration of the creatural—that is, animal—and bodily aspects of life are two things we’d do well to leave behind. Perhaps at last, in the beginnings of an age of AI, we are starting to center ourselves again, after generations of living slightly to one side—the logical, left-hemisphere side. Add to this that humans’ contempt for “soulless” animals, our unwillingness to think of ourselves as descended from our fellow “beasts,” is now challenged on all fronts: growing secularism and empiricism, growing appreciation for the cognitive and behavioral abilities of organisms other than ourselves, and, not coincidentally, the entrance onto the scene of an entity with considerably less soul than we sense in a common chimpanzee or bonobo—in this way AI may even turn out to be a boon for animal rights. Indeed, it’s entirely possible that we’ve seen the high-water mark of our left-hemisphere bias. I think the return of a more balanced view of the brain and mind—and of human identity—is a good thing, one that brings with it a changing perspective on the sophistication of various tasks. It’s my belief that only experiencing and understanding truly disembodied cognition—only seeing the coldness and deadness and disconnectedness of something that really does deal in pure abstraction, divorced from sensory reality—can snap us out of it. Only this can bring us, quite literally, back to our senses. ”—from “Man vs. Machine” by Brian Christian in last month’s The Atlantic
Evolution of Written Etiquette: A History
Etiquette in written communications evolves just as biological species do. Historically it has happened, perhaps not slowly, but generationally. Changes were reactions to societal views, significant events and, of course, technological changes.
Words constantly become more or less offensive over time as they lose their sharpness from overuse, develop new meanings or are just affected by a change in outlook on different issues. A good example is given in The Most Human Human by Brian Christian. The term “idiot” was once considered very ugly and was, therefore, replaced with the term “retarded” as an attempt at political correctness. Today, however, if a public statement called someone an idiot, it would be rude, but not shocking, while many would demand an apology if its replacement were uttered.
Changes in the technology of the printed word happened fairly slowly throughout most of history and were, perhaps, less a factor than social change with a few prominent exceptions like the invention of the printing press. Until recently the two main effects of modernization were the size of the population who could publish works and the size of the population who could consume published works. Improvements to the printing process lowered costs in time and money of producing books. This put books in the hands of more people and allowed book makers to print a wider variety of material.
The ability to consume written works was transferred from a population of elites to just about everybody who isn’t in poverty or oppressed.
In 2009 ..(update: Audio not working, Oops! Please click on link above. Thank you and sorry about that. I’m still trying to understand this technology thing.) author and philosopher Brian Christian took part in a competition to prove that he was human.
The Loebner Prize for artificial intelligence asks people to pit themselves against artificial intelligence to see if a computer can fool the judges into thinking it is a man.
After the competition judges crowned Christian the Most Human Human. He went on to write a book about the experience in an effort to find out what really sets us apart from the machine.
Memoryless News: Doomed to Repetition
I am currently listening to the audio version of Brian Christian’s book, The Most Human Human. It is a look at human conversation and behavior contrasted against the artificial intelligence of computers. Christian uses his participation in the Turing Test, a contest where computer programs intended to carry out convincing conversations are pitted against real people. Remote judges then have to discern man from machine. The most deceptive AI program is titled “The Most Human Computer” and another title, “The Most Human Human”, is bestowed on the person least often mistaken for a soulless robot.
One of the most memorable bits so far is Christian’s comparing the experience of dealing with customer service and speaking with a computer. Conversation bots sometimes are recognizable by their lack of a train of thought and, like a customer service transfer, can result in a feeling of having to repeat yourself over and over.
“The same thing happens sometimes in customer service, where the disruption of intimacy seems almost tactical.”
The author goes on to relate a frustrating and familiar tale of phone reps playing a game of musical chairs which stifles any opportunity to move his case forward or establish an understanding of his reasoning.