Brian Christian’s “The Most Human Human”

The backdrop for this book is the famous Turing Test, devised decades ago by the scientist Alan Turing.  Questions about AI existed from the very beginning of the invention of computers, and scientists wondered about a time when computers might possibly be able to “think” in a human-like way.  Turing speculated that if a computer could successfully impersonate a human 30% of the time, we would know that the necessary threshold had been crossed.

The advent of the internet has allowed computers to amass huge amounts of data and gain proficiency at this task much faster than Turing could have imagined.  And of course, technology in general improves all the time at speeds never before thought possible.  But I found Christian’s central premise quite intriguing: Is it possible that computers are better at impersonating humans not just because of the growth of technology, but  because we are worse at being human than we used to be?

Hidden behind this premise is to what degree we begin to act more like machines the more we interact with them.  When different cultures interact each leaves an imprint, however faint, on each other.  Does the same happen when we interact with machines?  Will our spoken language, for example, eventually reflect the language we use in texting?

I have just a few minor quibbles with the book.  He rambles a bit and wanders into other questions (though admittedly related ones) about the nature of language, the soul, and so on.  Here Christian summarizes the basic ideas on these questions throughout history, and because he didn’t seem to inject much of himself into these sections, they left me flat.

Still, kudos to Christian for raising a timely and interesting question.  But I wish he went further.  More questions need addressed, such as, “Why are so many so interested in proving that computers are “human?” I have a few possible theories:

  • The people who push the limits of AI do so in a vacuum, or in their minds, “science for Science’s sake.”  Science, or knowledge, is the only reward or consequence worth pursuing.  Let others deal with the moral consequences, that’s not our job.

Or

  • Some pursue the so-called merging of man and machine because they nurse a secret, perhaps unconscious hatred of Humanity itself and seek to abolish it.

Or

  • They believe that the best science helps us understand ourselves.  Thus, the success of computers at mimicking us will only push us to a further and more exploration of humankind.  The more we understand ourselves, the better we can know God.

I would guess that all three views (and no doubt others I have not thought of) exist in the computer science camp.  No doubt others do as well, so if you think of any, please let me know.

Many thanks,

Dave

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