Saturday, March 02, 2013

Brian Christian: The Most Human Human

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I gave up. Sometimes, when I look at how long it's been between blog posts, I realize that I've been reading the same book for a Very Long Time. This only really happens when the book is extraordinarily long and complex or extraordinarily boring, or can't hold my interest. So today, during my quest to finish "The Most Human Human," I gave up. I couldn't read more than 2 pages at a time and I was forgetting the two pages I read before that. The premise and ideas in Brian Christian's book: what does it mean that computers are getting smart, and what does that say about humanity, is genius. But the book is broken into mini-essays- like a page and a half essays- that are more like wisps of thoughts, and it's just not there. It reads like a college thesis (not really even a doctoral thesis) by a philosophy student, which I think Christian was, which means it was allowed to drift around from thought to thought.

Jonathan Foer wrote a beautiful, captivating book, "Moonwalking with Einstein" about memory, that was centered around this crazy memory contest that he ended up taking place in. The contest ended up holding his book together. Christian attempts a similar maneuver, as he signs up to be a "confederate" in the Turing Test. The Turing Test (something I first learned of when I was playing Glitch- new players would constantly ask me if I was a "bot," and refer to that test) is basically to find out if machines can think. Each year artificial intelligence people come together with a bunch of computer programs they've designed and face off against "confederates" or real people. Judges have 5 minutes to talk to a series of real people and computer and at the end, say which they think is real and which they think is the computer. Christian takes it upon himself to prove, emphatically, that he is human, and to win the "most human human" award. It's a very cool premise: what makes us human is one of the most fundamental questions ever, and computers are most definitely encroaching on our territory.

And that's about all I can say about this book, even though I almost, ALMOST finished it. I think that makes me human: I tried and failed.

Christian talked to some "pick up artists" in order to get their idea about what to say to the judges. All I can say is watch this video. It's very, and strangely, human.


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So much more than just the Turing test and chatbots. What does it to be "human" and "real": definitions that are becoming more blurry each passing day living with technology literally every waking hour.