In the previous post, I talked about how Lanier observes the meaning of the Turing Test. The Turing Test takes a computer and a human, puts them in a room and asks another human outside the room to interact with both through printed notes and the human outside is supposed to figure out which is the human and which is the computer. If the human outside cannot distinguish between the human and the computer, then the computer has passed the test.
While some think that this test shows computers are conscious, intelligent, and/or persons, Lanier is concerned that it demonstrates how we’ve degraded these concepts. I want to present a third possibility that I think may be a better assessment of the situation. It is not that computers exemplify these concepts, nor that we’ve degraded the concepts, but rather, we’ve allowed our imagination to fill in gaps in order to see things as human, but applying it to computers becomes a gross misapplication.
We use imagination to fill in the gaps of our experience of other people all the time, and I think that we can say that social media and other technology has encouraged that and made it even more natural to do so. We are only given a limited amount of information about a person, but using our imagination, we are able to see them as more than the information we have, and as an actual person. With our imagination, we construct in our heads what it would be like to be that person. To use Lanier’s lock-ins, we do so much of our interaction with people in non-face-to-face means (and even face-to-face means may still require imagination) that we’ve become locked-in to the mindset of using our imagination to fill in gaps that we don’t know/can’t experience about the other person. We’ve gotten so used to using our imagination with that basic level of information to see the other as a person that when we get the same type of feedback from a computer, we start to fill in a person around the computer. Our imagination is used to making those kinds of jumps and so it naturally does that when we encounter a computer that is imitating human things.
As we have more face-to-face interactions with individuals that are more than words on a screen or sounds waves transmitted digitally, it allows us to use less imagination and more memories to fill in the gaps. We have relationships with the person and not the person as we imagine him/her to be. The problem comes when we’ve gotten so used to using imagination that memories aren’t necessary to our interactions with other individuals.
As I mentioned in one of my first posts, I hope this blog generates discussions that can continue on into your lives, with the people you live in community with. I hope that these discussions create memories and eliminate the need for imagination to fill in gaps in your relationships with one another. I realize that you can’t have those kinds of relationships with everyone, but I think Kierkegaard is right that we need them with some people. We need to live life with people who we know see the world and experience the world, with whom we create memories and start to understand how they see and experience the world. The best use of on-line interaction is to feed the face-to-face interaction. However, if we can abandon the face-to-face interaction, thanks to our imagination filling in the gaps that should be filled with memories, maybe we have returned to our childhood, and live in a world full of imaginary friends.