WHO'S IN YOUR GENES »
In his 1906 essay, On the Psychology of the Uncanny, psychologist Ernst Jentsch articulated
the defining doubt as to "whether an apparently animate being is really alive; or conversely,
whether a lifeless object might be, in fact, animate." Nearly a century later, Japanese
animation director Mamoru Oshii would
use the quote in his animated opus, Innocence, on the life and humanity
of inanimate dolls. Dig the connection.
Roughly around this same time Dr. Richard Wallace would create
an Award-Winning "ChatBot" named A.L.I.C.E. who could carry
out a human conversation (more or less) and very much like
HAL in 2001, sing a song. The blurred lines between animate
and inanimate became even more blurry. Wallace has a simple
explanation for why robots are so much like us, and we
so much like them: "Consciousness is an illusion...
we are all robots." Some folks would disagree,
insisting we are monkeys. But this is my article,
not theirs and I agree with Wallace.
We are robots.
::: Haiku.exe :::
is near. Man will be Robot.
Or maybe we are nobots.
That's my hybrid word for Nobody and Robots. Nobots are any entity lacking intrinsic philosophical purpose and is therefore assigned purpose of utility. Humans, like Robots, do not have much to offer society except grunt work. Crunching numbers, answering phones, cleaning up shit: grunt work.
Whether virtual-class or cubicle-class; whether flesh, plastic or digital,
Nobots carry out the tedious tasks that the higher-class bots can't be bothered with.
It's not what we are that makes humans and robots kinsmen, it's
what we do. For example...
I was recently at a popular chain bookstore which regularly pitches one of those Buy-More-Books-Save-More-Money-Programs. Each time I find myself at this store I have my REJECT_OFFER.EXE program ready to counteract their REWARDS_SELL.EXE program. On one particular visit, I am pleasantly surprised: the woman doesn't hit me with:
"Do you know about our Book Rewards Program?"
Instead, she picks up my book and very genuinely asks:
"I've heard about this! Is this a favorite topic of yours?"
Impressed (or fooled) by the sincerity in her tone, I confirm with a "YES." This was pretty much like clicking the "YES" button on a Should I Run the SUGGESTIVE_SELL.EXE program? She began her sales pitch and I found myself repeatedly pounding the "ABORT" button, but it was too late. The Sell Program had been launched and I had to wait this one out. While listening to her suggestive salesmanship and studying her faux friendliness a realization had hit me: this woman wasn't just artificial; she was artificially intelligent! This was a classic example of The Turing Test and, yes, she had fooled me into thinking I was talking to a human! Wallace was right. We humans are robots. In her case she was employing all of the programmed pleasantries of a ChatBot. She was a ChatBot!
For those who need to know, the first ChatBot was created in 1966 by Joseph Weizenbaum. He named his "psychiatric" program, ELIZA which, like A.L.I.C.E. and the book store employee, operates from a database that matches keywords with the appropriate response. Most ChatBots work this way. Most customer service reps work this way as well, but this is not because we are hardwired to be routine and repetitive but simply because the companies we work for are at their best when homogenized and automated. Humans are not robots per se, but robotic parts. ChatBots are simply replacement parts. Both are equal in their philosophical emptiness; and equanimous in their functional utility. We run the same three programs: Smile / Suggest / Sell
This lack of purpose goes back longer than we remember. During the 80s, humans took one look at computers, frowned at their price tag and their apparent impracticality and asked: "What does this thing do?" The answer was not much. I remember one friend describing his first computer as an "expensive typewriter." Computers, would be faced with the same conundrum should they ever invent humans. They'd all gather around, staring through their optic sensors at some naked idiot, wondering what does this thing do? Monkeys, the lucky bastards, are never burdened with such questions. Nobody expects them do much of anything. Humans, Robots and even ChatBots all carry on their shoulders the cruel expectation of having to do something. Purpose. Or, more accurately, the lack of purpose is what humans, robots and ChatBots have in common. We humans don't really know why we're here. Robots don't either. Lacking any purpose, but being expected to have one, we are condemned to be utilities of society: some robots spend an entire day doing nothing else but vacuuming floors. ChatBots are doomed to a lifetime of customer service. Humans, sadly, are still looking for work.
Many humans balk at the idea of having any kinship to their Robot and ChatBot counterparts. Robots and ChatBots hardly give us the satisfaction of caring one way or the other. They constitute a type of cyber-autism, being all at once remarkably intelligent and remarkably indifferent to us mere mortals. The only time Robots take any interest in us is when we program them to do so. Take, for instance, my encounter with "Dave."
Dave is noticeably 3D in appearance. The gap between my realness and his is equanimous to the gap between the questions I ask him and the answers he give. Dave answers questions about a car called the TWINGO, and I can see that Behind that artificial smile is a man (yes, I said MAN) who is bored out of his fucking mind: bored with answering dumb questions about cars; bored with dumb humans who ask inane questions. Bored.
I try my best to lighten things up a bit with an admittedly juvenile question: "Can I get laid in this Twingo?"
Dave appreciates my humor. He winks his eye and says: *Small on the outside, Twingo is surprisingly roomy on the inside. It has the largest boot space in its class and rear seats that can fold down flat. Or you can have a car full of passengers by taking advantage of the revolutionary independent sliding and folding rear seats for more legroom in the back. Don't take my word for it, head down to a Renault dealer for a test drive and see for yourself.*
I'm not kidding. He actually said that. "A car full of passengers..." Clearly this means I can have a full scale orgy in my Twingo. But to get laid in the States, especially with a car called Twingo, you need to show some testosterone. I ask Dave: "Will I win a Fast and Furious race in my new Twingo?"
*Well, I'm British but you could say my parents are French.*
Dave, again, leans his head to the right and winks. Right.
What the hell is this man, err, this Nobot, rambling about? I am now on the verge of retracting my Declaration of Brotherhood with 'bots. Poor guy has been at this so long he's going crazy. "Dave, I want you to come work for me." I say, offering to give him a way out of this madness. Of course, what I really want is a servant. A slave.
*How can I help you today?* He answers. Bingo.
Actually, his real answer was: *Hi Dave. How can I help you today?* This means that he has confused me with himself, so I'm back to my existential dilemma. THE existential dilemma. Are humans robots and vice-versa? Screw it I'll ask Dave:
"Dave, fellow Nobot... are we brothers?"
Dave's reply tells me that we are again on the same page. His reply seems directed at me and Dr. Wallace. He answers:
"Sorry, but I don't yet have the answer to that question."