[A] curious article popped up this morning regarding a telephone conversation with a computer claiming to be human. Apparently, Time Magazine bureau chief Michael Scherer put this entity to a series of ‘tests’ to prove whether or not the caller was really a human female called ‘Samantha West’:
After asking the telemarketer point blank if she was a real person or a computer-operated robot, she chuckled charmingly and insisted she was real. Looking to press the issue, Scherer asked her a series of questions, which she promptly failed. Such as, “What vegetable is found in tomato soup?” To which she responded by saying she didn’t understand the question. When asked what day of the week it was yesterday, she complained of a bad connection (ah, the oldest trick in the book).
You can listen to two conversations taped during this series of ‘tests’ here. Believe me, it’s worth your time to do so. Why? Because we are standing at the very doors to a future where computers and android entities may be ranked alongside humans as legal persons.
Don’t believe me? Artificial intelligence is an abstract concept to most of us, but computer programmers and Singularitans like Ray Kurzweil and George Church look to AI as the next leap in ‘human’ evolution. Robotics is a burgeoning field that now includes aerial ‘birds’ and ‘bees’–some for surveillance, others to deliver goods from Amazon or Walmart using GPS nav systems. (“Here’s that new video game you ordered, Mrs. Gilbert!”) One wonders if we’ll eventually see a SWAT team of bots bursting in to break up clandestine meetings or drug operations.
In March, 2011, James Boyle published a provocative essay at the Brooks Institute website titled “Endowed by Their Creator?: The Future of Constitutional Personhood”. Boyle is a respected professor of law at Duke University, and he imagines a world to come where chimeras and computers will compete for constitutional recognition as ‘persons’. And some now claim humans are not automatically ‘persons’ legally. Does an Alzheimer patient who appears to lack ‘self awareness’ a ‘person’? Is a one-year-old child a ‘person’? Is my dog a person? (Sam would say yes, but that’s another article…)
Facebook recently hired NYU professor Yann Lecun to head up their ‘artificial intelligence’ unit. Facebook leaders hope Lecun’s recent research into ‘deep learning’ will increase ad revenues, but this line of research may also enhance FB’s ability to discern faces and predict behavior. Is there a point where FB servers unite into a massive ‘entity’ with ‘personhood’? ‘Deep learning’ reminds me of the Douglas Adams character ‘Deep Thought‘, a computer designed to calculate the answer to the ultimate question in ‘The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’ (the answer: 42).
Ironically, Adams’ fictional world might not be that different from our own real one. After hearing Deep Thought provide the ultimate answer, the computer programmers realized they hadn’t discerned the ultimate question to life, the universe, and everything. Naturally, a bigger computer (Spoiler, it’s Earth) had to be created to determine that! I say the above because artificial intelligence, designed to provide humanity with ultimate answers, instead keeps us asking more and more questions. Deep learning, a movement that seeks to use neural nets to mimic the human brain, may actually (if not stopped by God Almighty) lead to the ultimate mimicry, something less Douglas Adams and more Battlestar Galactica.
So, what is a human? If you are reading this, the odds are that you are human, but then again….who knows?
God does. Full stop.