One of my Blogger friends, Maddie, recently wrote about her experience of having her blog flagged by the Blogger robots, who thought she herself might be a robot. It must be a very unsettling experience - just think, how do you PROVE you aren't a robot?
It's not quite such a simple question as it sounds. Of course, you know that you are NOT a robot (don't you?) but how do you demonstrate it? Recent developments in technology make it possible to program a machine to make responses to questions or comments which are what we would expect from a human. The kind of randomness that we associate with human behaviour can be built in to the program. The responses (and initiatives) of the program can be adjusted to take account of attributes, so you can make a robot program respond in the characteristic way depending on age, nationality, occupation etc. These are what people are thinking of when they talk about a person's identity, but if attributes can be programmed in, then identity can also be programmed.
I have seen advertised on the web some softwares that claim to be able to "spin" articles, that is, to take some existing articles (or blog posts?) and spin them into a thousand new articles, all unique in the eyes of a search engine robot, and all LOOKING like they were written by a human. I have no idea if the claims are true, or just advertising scams, but if they are - well - how do you REALLY know that this post, for instance, is not written by a robot?
The classic robot filtering device in use on the net is the word verification box. This seems to work quite well, but who knows? The next thing is a voice recording, or a live audio convo, or a photo, or a video. But all of these things can be manufactured.
Let's assume you have found out that someone is human, not robotic. The next question you ask is, who are they? This is a question about attributes again. (Age, nationality, race, education, industry, occupation, interests.) But these are the wrong questions.
Another friend of mine did a brilliant post about racism. It highlights the stupidity of making a judgement about people based on their skin colour. It's a pre-judgement, a prejudice. But in the same way, people make all kinds of pre-judgements based on the attributes of a person. Thus, a 14 year old female is expected by some to only be interested in pink fluffy things. If she then expresses an opinion, or spells words correctly, or uses words of more than one syllable, people may suspect she is not really what she says she is. Look at Meghna's blog for evidence of this kind of question.
But suppose you find out they have the attribute they claim. Then you say, ah yes, well they must be a brainy type. And so then you are surprised when you find they really do like pink fluffy things as well! This is because you are stereotyping them, trying to make them fit your prejudice idea, so that you don't have to go out of your comfort zone. The reason there is so much of this going on is because so many people allow themselves to conform to the stereotypes put on them by other people. But it doesn't have to be that way. Break out of your stereotype!
Many many times, people say, how can you possibly know that at your age? The answer is: read! But the question itself is demeaning. It's saying, what right have you to behave out of character, to act in a way that destroys my carefully nurtured prejudice about you, to take me out of my little comfort zone?
An interesting philosophy topic is to ask, how do we know that anyone else exists at all outside ourselves? Again, this is not such a simple question as you may think. Let's suppose you ask your friend, or your teacher, or even your mother: Do you exist? They will obviously reply, yes, (or even no, as a joke) but as you know, a program inside an organic matrix that looks like a human body can do that too. Any response could be programmed. So whatever you ask that person, their response follows the expected pattern. This branch of philosophy is called the Theory of Knowledge, and it contains many problems that are still unsolved, but are even now being highlighted by current events in technology.
And how can I possibly know all this? Well, of course, I read about it!