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11 April 2008 @ 09:46 am
Two talks by Luciano Floridi  
Luciano Floridi gave two invited talks at the AISB convention. The first was a two-handed public lecture with Aaron Sloman. Aaron's talk was broadly similar to his recent Thinking about Mathematics and Science lecture at Liverpool. The second was an invited talk for the academics at the conference but Floridi treated them as two halves of the same thing.

Floridi is a primarily a philosopher. His interest, as I understood it, is in understanding philosophically what is happening at the moment in the interaction between humans and computational systems, in particular with a hope that this will allow us to avoid pitfalls down the road. He made a number of interesting points which I'm going to cover in no particular order:

  • We are on the edge of a shift in how we view ourselves; "The fourth revoluation". Once we thought we were the centre of the universe but then we had to change that self perception (The Copernican Revolution). Then we thought we were uniquely created and had to change that (The Darwinian Revolution). Then we viewed ourselves as entirely rational and explicable organisms (Freud put a stop to that one). I wasn't entirely clear exactly what change in self-perception the fourth revolution was but I think it involved challenging our perception of ourselves as discrete physical objects in favour of one that viewed ourselves as interconnected informational objects. There was a surprisingly vehement negative response to this idea in much of the room (though that response was linked to my next point) which suggested that, at the very least, the concept does challenge people's perception of self in some way.

  • We are a long way from producing intelligent programs but we already have a lot of dumb but smart systems. For instance Neopets are very basic but nevertheless clearly fill an emotional need for a lot of people. Floridi posited an upsurge of dumb programs designed to mimic human companionship in very specific ways - some of these would be for entertainment only (like Neopets) but some would have more specific assistive functions (e.g., monitoring of the elderly). None would be anything like intelligent. At lot of discussion followed on whether people would be "fooled" by this. Further discussion followed that people wouldn't be "fooled" - they'd be quite aware of the limitations of such companions - but they would use them and become attached to them anyway just as they do to pets or, perhaps more relevantly, sentimental objects.

  • The Ancient Greeks had an animist view of the world in which all objects had, to some extent, a personality. With the advent of pervasive systems and RFID tags making it practical to embed limited interactivity into everyday objects we might well be cyclicly entering a view of the world in which objects once more have personality (or at least a form of interactivity). Right now its only cars that talk back to us (and only if we have GPS installed).

  • At the moment most of us view the online/informational world as, in some sense, separate from the real or physical world. As pervasive systems become more widespread this concept of separation will fade and we will less and less compartmentalise what we are doing as either an informational act (working at a computer) or a physical act (not working at a computer).

king_pellinorking_pellinor on April 11th, 2008 09:39 am (UTC)
So when the characters in the PC game I'm playing complain that they're tired, say that they've forgotten the orders I've given them, or announce that they're quitting because they don't like one of the other characters, they're not talking to me in the interactive way that a GPS does when it reads out the instructions on the screen?

Interesting ;-)
louisedennis: roleplayinglouisedennis on April 11th, 2008 10:03 am (UTC)
Depends whether you think they are real people or just dumb/smart programme's programmed to appear like your average bunch of roleplayers :-)

Or possibly the answer is just, yes they are, both are information organisms doing their thing - no distinction.

Edited at 2008-04-11 10:03 am (UTC)
bunnbunn on April 11th, 2008 11:40 am (UTC)
I would want to quibble with the idea that things need to be able to talk to have a personality?

Surely things that talk don't necessarily have personalities, and things/animals with personalities don't have to talk?

I used to have an antivirus program that talked (in a rather sexy Jamaican voice), but it was less of a personality than my old bicycle, Geraldine. I'm not sure why.
louisedennis: computinglouisedennis on April 11th, 2008 01:26 pm (UTC)
I would want to quibble with the idea that things need to be able to talk to have a personality?

I'm simplifying, obviously they don't, but GPS is the easiest example of the sort of pervasive technology he's talking about. I also find it hard to envisage what sort of "interactivity" let alone personality I'd want from your average household object - beyond an RFID tag letting me find where small things, like keys, actually were.
the little creep: snufkinnyarbaggytep on April 11th, 2008 03:46 pm (UTC)
Ooh, very interesting. I like his theories about changes in how we see ourselves, mirroring discoveries in neurology and the study of consciousness.