Who Are You, Really?

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!


Susanna-Cole said...

"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!" I think this could be true... however I never really let people stereotype me or try and put me in a box or category. Always been a rebel like that. :P

Anyway, this is a very interesting subject though, has my brain churning ;)

Thanks so much for your comment, by the way! :)


Maddie said...

Haha, glad my post gave you an inkling of inspiration. :P
It does paint a scary picture, were technology to get so advanced it can fully replicate a human's actions and thoughts. I agree about the stereotyping as well, if you're not in one box you seem to be in another, maybe that's why a future where technology can decipher your identity based on a small piece of information doesn't seem so far away.

Filo Sofia said...

To Susanna-Cole: Thank you for your comment! It came in just as I remembered I mentioned your "Skin Deep" post, which was one of the inspirations for this one. I've fixed it now so it's linked back to your post. x

Meghna said...

This is a very inspirational post and reading it was so very delightful...I agree with every word you said :)

Thanks for the link!!!

It's a privilege.....to read such a post and be friends with such a great writer!

Filo Sofia said...

To maddie: Maybe it's already possible to implant a barcode carrier into an embryo so it will replicate into every cell. The technology can give an identity, based on attributes, name, age, country etc but it can never discover your true self that is beyond them all. (Lets not get started on Buddhism though) LOL x

Filo Sofia said...

To Meghna: You are much too kind. My writing is rambling, unorganised, and lacking originality. The privilege of being friends with a great writer is solely MY privilege, in being friends with you.

Anadroid said...

When robots start getting emotional and display human attributes that's when things get scary...Has anyone read the book/collection of short stories Robot Dreams by Isaac Asimov? It's really good.

Priya Joyce said...

hey yes tats sumthing very true.

Completely philosophical
and yes the response in the so called programmed pattern is so very true.

loved the issue

I guess For the kindaa person u seem to be u need to read this

Filo Sofia said...

To Anadroid: Yeah, Asimov is a must-read author. x

To Priya Joyce: I read your article on the link, yeah it a very important issue you raise there. x