Text Patterns - by Alan Jacobs

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

the self that computers know

Ed Finn:

The idea that a computer might know you better than you know yourself may sound preposterous, but take stock of your life for a moment. How many years of credit card transactions, emails, Facebook likes, and digital photographs are sitting on some company’s servers right now, feeding algorithms about your preferences and habits? What would your first move be if you were in a new city and lost your smartphone? I think mine would be to borrow someone else’s smartphone and then get Google to help me rewire the missing circuits of my digital self.  

My point is that this is not about inconvenience — increasingly, it’s about a more profound kind of identity outsourcing....  

In history, in business, in love, and in life, the person (or machine) who tells the story holds the power. We need to keep learning how to read and write in these new languages, to start really seeing our own shadow selves and recognizing their power over us. Maybe we can even get them on our side.

A few years ago I quoted Jaron Lanier on the Turing Test:

But the Turing test cuts both ways. You can't tell if a machine has gotten smarter or if you've just lowered your own standards of intelligence to such a degree that the machine seems smart. If you can have a conversation with a simulated person presented by an AI program, can you tell how far you've let your sense of personhood degrade in order to make the illusion work for you?

Ed Finn is inadvertently illustrating Lanier’s point. What does a computer think my “identity” is, my “self” is? Why, credit card transactions and Facebook likes, of course. So Finn agrees with the computer. He for one welcomes our new cloud-based overlords.