Can machines think?

The progressive development of technology till its present-day condition had and has to do with humans’ needs. Most inventions were conceived to supply solution to a missing thingy, or as problem solving tools. The more advances were made, the easier was to create new artifacts. Therefore, as Heidegger states (btw, what’s with all those gerunds?), technology is a means to an end and a human activity at the same time. Personally, I understand these two statements as joined at the hip. Technology is not an independent entity; it is not self-governed.  The means to a particular end have been created and configured by a person who, at the same time, is involved in dealing with that end once it is reached and, as a consequence, responsible for the result.

Due to the fact that technology is involved in most of our daily life tasks such as turning off the alarm clock, starting the car, playing some music on the radio (I believe singing like crazy on your favourite tune is still a human (re)action), etc., we no longer spend time thinking about the implications of the digital being something good, bad, dangerous or profitable. 60 years ago, though, things were different, for they were creating the digital computers that we now use.

While reading Turing’s “Computing Machinery and Intelligence” (1950) and Heidegger’s “The Question Concerning Technology” (1953) I couldn’t help but wonder what they would think about Siri. And since I was having a hard time understanding what both of them were saying, I found it easy to amuse myself with the toy. I had asked it some weird things before, but today I focused on some of the concerns of “the father of artificial intelligence”.

Nope, I’m not Alexis. But I don’t own an iPhone yet, so I borrowed his.

According to Apple: “Siri lets you use your voice to send messages, schedule meetings, place phone calls, and more. Ask Siri to do things just by talking the way you talk.”  Clearly, that makes it a tool and, as such, it won’t tell us if it is a machine; it cannot tell if it loves; it doesn’t know, it seems, whether it is beautiful; it won’t joke. Following one of the questions in Turing’s, it hasn’t tried strawberries (really?? Apple, you should give Siri some strawberries right now). Rather, it has been programmed to answer who its teacher was for commercial purposes: Apple, in California. Interesting, since Turing suggests teaching machines, to some extend, like children in school. Finally, I decided to ask the tool for a controversial opinion among humans: “What do you think about war?” Not surprisingly, Siri avoids giving an answer that would point out the political view of the company. Nonetheless, the answer is quite striking: “I think, therefore I am.” Bweep, bip bip, bweep. Fire alarm. It can think. Those afraid of technology should do something about this, right now!!

It was Habermas who raised, in my opinion, the most relevant question in that it is still valid to our days: are we using technology, or is it using us? In order to answer this question it is impossible to escape politics and economy. “Capitalism is the first mode of production in world history to institutionalize self-sustaining economic growth,” explains Habermas. The economic growth is what is managing the world. As a result, we have changed our interaction in society. The problem then lies not on how many electronic doodads we own but, rather, how we have reshaped communities due to the use of technology. According to the philosopher, there is a lack of balance.

The real issue lies on the fact that it is us, humans, who teach machines what to do, when and how to act. It is us who can manage them. We could choose to destroy every single digital artifact. But that would be going back in time to those days were society was based on companionship rather than rampant competitiveness. As a result, some technology has become more a reflection of society than an aid. And that is the big issue here.

As a final note and connecting the post back to our debates in class, I feel that some humanists, or people in general, are following what Turing calls “The Head in the Sand Objection,” preventing a real understanding of the problem. We have already talked about humanists been afraid of digital tools being applied to the study of the human knowledge. Again, why? Why do we believe that “the consequences of machines thinking would be too dreadful?” (444). On Humanities, it would help on research, as it does to medicine. Since technology is a means to an end and a human activity, we can still use it to find some responses.

I may be going to far here, but the too dreadful a consequence is that machines, as driven by humans, would “think” as we do, therefore being biased, and cruel in some extend (they have no soul, right?), and creating still more trouble in an already too cracked a society.

A blog as a literary genre

¿Are posts a brand new literary genre? Maybe, but not yet.

Thanks to the web2.0 today it is possible for almost everyone to have our own Blog. And there people can write about their life, worries, ask somebody for advice, share images or whatever we can imagine. But the amazing point is that nowadays more and more good writers appear on the Internet.

But, which are the consequences on this use, different from the common one? We know that with new technologies, written text have come into digital information. And so has done the literature. This new way of writing can combine text, images and even music at the same time; with it, authors can play with the literary creation. Electronic text is called hipertext and it base is the principle of association and there is no line way as in a book. Then we have two types of hypertext:

  • Static edition: A CD for example, we can not change what it has, and the limit is what the computer can read.
  • Dynamic edition: Internet, where is a wide range of possibilities.

Another important point in literature on the Internet, is that the reader is asked to be selective, capable to relate information and to decide his own route. This is because through the different links on a text, we can go directly to the information we are interested at. Furthermore, there is no tyrannical voice. In a blog, the writer create a story, but ask his readers their opinion -which they can write straight away- or even there are more than one writers.

Taking this points into account we conclude that on the one hand it is obvious that we can find blogs use as literature sources, were no published writers can find a way to their popularity; but, on the other hand, this new method will in a future coexist with the traditional book. The choice will be in our hands: paper or screen.

Modern Society, Modern Addiction

Nowadays the use of computers is quite important. We need them to look for information, communicate with friends, do the shopping. Can the net be the modern addiction? Yes, it can.

To start with, new technologies play a very important role in any kind of job. To apply for one you need to have knowledge about computers. In this case, there is no problem with addiction. It is necessary to survive in the modern world. Work does not cause addiction even when people have to spend their free time on it.

The problem comes when someone has a lot of free time and spends hours in front of the machine at home. As we know, the computer connected to the Internet has a great number of possibilities where someone can waste time. It lets us chat people from all over the world, download music, films, games or do the shopping without the need to move out of the house. This, of course, may cause an involuntary addiction, which may affect real relationships.

In my case, as a student, I need the Internet. On the one hand, I am asked to look for information, documents, texts. Homework, such as essays, may be done on the computer-no handwriting. So, as far as I am concerned, I need it. On the other hand, I have my own laptop and I can spend hours talking with my friends. But I don’t depend on the computer. I can use old resources.

To sum up, I would say addiction to computers or new technologies should be compared with other addictions. We should not abuse the facilities computers offer us. They make our lives easier but can not do everything. Using them every moment may even cause a worse addiction than smoking. There is no way to give up computers till the day.