Saturday, July 23, 2005

Artificial Self-Recognition?

For some reason I find it very disturbing when I encounter an automated voice on the phone and the very unreal voice states, "Please wait while I connect you" or something of that nature. What irks me is the fact that this disembodied and artificial voice is actually referring to itself as "I". Having grown up with Isaac Asimov stories like "I, Robot", the super-computer HAL from "2001: A Space Odyssey", and Robby the Robot from the insipid Lost in Space TV series, not to mention the ubiquitous robots with feelings from Star Wars, I still cringe when I hear non-sentient "beings" refer to themselves in the first person.

As much as I rely on computers and their powers on a daily basis, there is a part of me that still retains the view that a machine---as much as it is programmed to use the term "I"--- is incapable of perceiving its own existence. While I will readily anthropomorphise (spelling?) my dogs, and attribute great powers of self-awareness and abstract thinking to their small brains, I find it difficult to make the stretch to feeling similarly about a machine. I'm fascinated by the thought of artificially intelligent machines with powers of self-awareness, but I also still wonder if a non-sentient machine can ever truly have self-awareness as we know it, and how would we ever measure that anyway?

So, dear Reader, the next time you call Information for a phone number and the voice says, "Please wait while I search for that number", consider how much you are willing to suspend your disbelief that that disembodied voice created by a digital voice synthesizer actually cares whether you get the right number or not. I'm always relieved when the real operator comes on the line and I can make a human connection with him or her.

Just a random thought from my sleepy brain.......
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