Sunday, November 12, 2017

Living With A Virtual Ghost

Recently, on an interview for National Public Radio in the United States, a man was explaining how he had done his own extensive interviews with his father, before the latter passed away.  He then used these interviews as the foundation for recreating the mental presence of his father through artificial intelligence after his father died.  In other words, it is as if he can talk with his father again, even though his father is deceased.  So now, whenever he feels lonely for his deceased father, he can use the artificial technology that he has developed to bring his father at least mentally to life.  The man can have connections with this facsimile of his father and feel assuaged in his persistent sense of loss. The man has found a way to keep the presence of his father’s mind around seemingly forever.

One might say that this perpetual maintenance of a facsimile of the father’s mind is the ultimate surrogate immortality for the father.  If the father can’t stay alive forever, at least the apparent presence of his mental activity and his voice can.  But the truth is that when the artificial intelligence technology is being activated, it is conversing like the father might have conversed, but it is not repeating conversations that the father has actually participated in within a particular present social situation.  Furthermore, the artificial intelligence presence of the father was created mostly by the son and not by the father.  In some ways, it is more the preserved imprint of the son rather than the father.

            There is another angle to look at with regard to this situation of the artificial intelligence father, and that is what does the experience of this facsimile father do the son?  Does it have any spillover effects into his actual memories of his father or into his relationship with other living people.   I have talked about a certain phenomenon before in connection with the influence of the experiencing of complex machines and robots by humans.  A person tends to blur together in his mind all the complex behavioral entities in his daily life.  In modern life, this means humans, on the one hand, and complex machines and robots on the other.

            At one time in history, people were surrounded by animals and these were the complex behavioral entities that were blurred with humans in the human mind then. The most obvious manifestation of this blurring has been the totem animals with whom clans within tribes have identified.  The essence of the totem animal, its traits, permeated into the human who identified with it.  Then there are the mythologies in the world where humans and animals combined to form new creatures.  Perhaps the most well-known of these is the centaur, the half-human half-horse that was a part of Greek mythology.

But nowadays the most common complex behavioral entities surrounding people, at least in modern technological societies, are complex machines and robots.  In particular, most people have smartphones and many have laptop computers.  They live with these complex behavioral entities the way people used to live surrounded by wild animals, farm animals and animals for transport.  And formal blurring of people with complex machines and robots has occurred in the form of androids and cyborgs.  And unconscious blurring in which people experience other people as depersonalized mechanical entities is definitely present.

The foundation for this blurring occurs first in the mirroring and modeling that babies and children partake of when they relate to their mother.  Now the mother may be the main source for initial mirroring and modeling, but, even at an early age, the father and other family members and other complex behavioral entities become sources for mirroring and modeling as well.  In today’s world, children are introduced to television, computers. smartphones, even robots, at a very young age. And the point is that it is not only that these complex machines are endowed with human properties as they are blurred together with humans through mirroring and modeling, but humans start to be endowed with machine properties.

In so many ways, we see this today.  There is more and more a tendency to use people only for what they can offer.  Employers are increasingly trying to get workers as part-time employees so that pensions and other benefits can be eliminated.  People like texting rather than talking on the phone so that they can dispense with the formalities and courtesies involved with  normal human conversation.  People increasingly become involved with sexual activity, free from the bonding involved in strong relationships and commitments.  In other words, sex has been reduced for many to a utilitarian process that satisfies basic needs.  A person has friends with benefits.

There is a planned obsolescence built into more human connections today in our modern technological world.  And less and less real human bonding.  People are disposable figures floating in a vacuum.  They tend to not have strong bonding with each other through organic grounding.

So how does all this connect to the artificial intelligence facsimile father.  After all, the purpose in creating this is not planned obsolescence but rather a kind of planned immortality.  Keeping the father alive using modern technology.  The artificial intelligence father is a different kind of complex behavioral entity than most modern machines.  The artificial intelligence father is a vacuumized figure that lacks mass, matter and substance.  It is created by the defined discrete digital processes that are part of a certain kind of digital software.  So it is not a machine itself, but it is dependent upon a machine to survive.  A machine that has the possibility of so many minute processes, that it can give the impression of creating or rather recreating a human consciousness.  And then when we see the impressive conversational skills of an entity like this artificial intelligence father, we begin to believe that we have in our presence a recreation of human consciousness.  But no matter how many minute processes are involved in order to recreate this human consciousness, they are still only defined discrete processes incapable of the organic bonding of a real human being that has real human consciousness.  This artificial intelligence consciousness has no core sense of self.  All it has are interacting defined discrete digital processes.  The processes don’t organically bond to form a coherent sense of self.  And because the processes don’t organically bond with each other – through flowing blendable continual stimuli – they can’t, as a bundle of processes, a bundle of stimuli, really bond with a person.  The man who created the dad bot, on some level, has to know that when it comes to the real presence of his dad in the dad bot, there is no there there.

And to the extent that there is no real presence of a coherent organic sense of self in an artificial intelligence presentation of a person, any illusion of bonding is going to vanish.  Spending as much time pretending to bond with a non-organic entity is time spent where a person doesn’t receive the organic stimulation that he can use to bond with himself.  So it can contribute to the person crumbling apart from spending so much time in a relationship that doesn’t really have organic bonding.  The person’s unplanned obsolescence as a person with a strongly digitally influenced consciousness parallels the planned obsolescence of a machine and modern human workers.

It has been discussed in different articles in this column that there are several different kinds of infinity, not only mathematically but experientially as well.  It has been pointed out that there is a greater infinity of points on a line going from 0 to 1 than the infinity of all the delimited discrete rational numbers.  As a parallel to this comparison between a nondelimited infinity and a delimited infinity, it can be said that there is a greater infinity of organic flowing blendable continual responses of a human than the more defined discrete digital responses of artificial intelligence.  Which means that an artificial intelligence based facsimile of a father, for all of its seeming conversational versatility, is not going to have the same conversational versatility as the deceased father had.  Certainly emotional inflection is going to be missing, because an artificial intelligence entity has no core sense of self.  The responses it has are going to be instrumental rather than stemming from some core essence.

At any rate, the ongoing interaction with the deceased father facsimile will have its effect.  The memory of the organic father is going to start blurring with the apparent mental activity of the artificial intelligence based facsimile of the father.  So the memory of the father is going to become gradually robotized.  And so the vibrant memories of the father are going to become trivialized and diminished.  Perhaps it is just best to leave the vibrant organic coherent memory of the father alone in a more pristine condition.  For all that is apparently gained by keeping a facsimile of the father’s consciousness around, the true essence of the father is clouded over and lost.

© 2017 Laurence Mesirow


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