In science fiction there is a concept of mind transfer which deals with the uploading of human minds into computers – in essence a technological solution for creating immortality by providing an artificial life after death. This concept has one major flaw. The entity that is you still dies, but you get the comforting warm fuzzy feeling that your personality will live on. Of course, I believe the chance that science will one day be able to record our personalities is equal to the chance of people having natural life after death. Both are fascinating concepts but unfortunately mostly suitable for idle daydreaming and wishing.
That doesn’t stop me from wondering about the concept of personality. If I could be recorded or if I could survive death, what is the essence of my personality? From the outside people sees a middle-aged bald fat guy. If they get to know me they will get to know a personality that’s interested in a lot of ideas and books. If an android could be created that had all my opinions, memories and interests, would people tell the difference between the human me and the artificial me? From the inside, being me feels like a history of experiences and memories that observes reality with a certain range of senses that is always affected by the quality of my health. An artificial me, would have to feel like me when I wake up in the morning and want to do the same things I normally do. It would have to feel about situations in the same way I feel.
I don’t think it’s possible to build an artificial internal me. Nor do I see any reason to do so. If I can’t experience the reality of being me why would I care if science could create an artificial me? What I love about being me is being alive and having my unique experiences of reality – I’d have to be rather egotistical to create another me – and if I could, it wouldn’t be me, so what’s the point?
Now it may be possible to create an artificial intelligence that can mimic my personality from the outside. The act of creating one would be a good programming challenge. It would also be a philosophical and metaphysical education. Think about it. If you could program a computer to fake being you, you would have to know who you are to fake it. This may turn out to be disappointing. Trust me, I’ve given this thought experiment a fair amount of daydream time and you may not want to know where this experience will lead you philosophically.
Since creating a personal android is not feasible right now, I’ve thought up a very cheap alternative to use for this experiment. I’ve been following the growth of Wikipedia for a couple years now and I’ve wondered if Wiki software could be used as a representation of artificial personality? Now I wouldn’t want strangers editing my memories, but the software could be adapted as an encyclopedia of personal history. Since I believe our personality is really the memories of our life experiences, our opinions, beliefs, likes and dislikes, I think it would be possible to create an encyclopedia of “who we are” that others could query and get a fairly good idea of our personality. Think of it as the brains of a future android – the reservoir of knowledge that such a device would query when asked questions.
I just thought of a real value for such a product. I wish my parents, grandparents and all my ancestors had created such an artificial personality. Ditto for all the famous people of history. It would be great to be able to go “interview” all these people. Also, imagine whenever you meet a person in real life if you could go query their artificial personality? Would you want such an AI to represent you? What if potential employers wanted to interview your AI instead of you? What if people getting to know you discover that your AI and real personality diverge? Is such a representation of personality even possible?
Picture this. You go to a party and meet new people. They ask questions about you and from your answers these people make judgments about your personality. Often these questions don’t mean much: “What did you think of that movie Borat?” or “When should the U.S. pull out of Iraq?” or “Do you still know anyone from your first grade class?” An android standing in for you trying to pass this advanced form of a Turing Test would essentially need to answer any question – but answer it just as you would. Is personality just a long list of answers to specific questions? If it were, then scientists could create a download of you by asking you a lot of questions and recording the answers instead of taking your brain out and pulling it apart neuron by neuron.
To the outside world is Jim Harris more of a middle-aged fat bald guy or an invisible being who knows a lot about computers and books? When you think of your friends do you think about their opinions or their image? Is J. K. Rowing the sum of the Harry Potter books or the lady we all see interviewed on television?
Because of my problems with memory and my philosophical interests in defining personality I’ve decided to use my computer tools to create an experiment. The ordinary blog could be a good way to represent personality but I think they have problems. Blogs work like a diary and aren’t really suitable for browsing through structures. I think I could set up a Wiki with a home page that had two columns that would organize my life for quick reference. The first column would be a listing of years in chronological reverse order. The second column would be an alphabetical listing of hobbies, topics of interests and other key words in my life. I thought about a third column listing names of people that I know, but that list might be too long for the home page.
Playing with Wikipedia shows it to be an excellent tool for organizing a lot of information. Wikipedia’s detractors are mostly concerned with editing and the authority of authorship. If I was creating an encyclopedia of my own life I would have to trust myself as a primary editor and contributor. Now we all know how everyone is an unreliable observer so I would also have to consider allowing other people I know to contribute and edit entries. For example I have a lot of memories about playing in the woods near New Ellington, South Carolina during our 1964-65 stay there. I could allow my sister to contribute so we could compare memories. However, I wouldn’t want her to edit out my memories. What I’d really like is Wiki software that allowed for controlled annotations. I don’t know if Wiki programs offer that feature?
Beyond standard Wiki software I’d like some advance features. Right now people could go to a artificial personality Wiki site about you and start browsing and searching the site and get a fairly good idea about what you are like if you took the time to create the site. Let’s say you want to build this site for your descendants so they could get to know you. Now imagine better software and technology – this kind of stuff will be added over time. Personally, I can envision logging into a personality and seeing an artificial movie of a person talking to me. This talking head could morph into a moving image of that person from child to wrinkled old dying body. Such software features would be far in the future, but for now I can imagine several enhancements to regular Wiki software.
A cool feature I’d like for this personality Wiki is a photo manager. First, I’d obviously like it to manage all the thousands of photos I’d like to upload, but second, I’d like it to have a security system which would allow me to give friends permission to upload their photos and annotate any photo that they have knowledge concerning the contents. To be nice this software should also automatically create several sizes for each photo – thumbnail, sized for inline text, large page use, full screen and blowup magnifier like the software we see in the film Blade Runner. Remember in Blade Runner the androids were given family photos to enhance their beliefs that they were real people and not machines. I think photos are key artifacts to recreating artificial memories.
Since I’m dreaming – I’d also want similar tools for video and sound. Videos and sound recordings are actually more real than memories – almost disturbingly so. Yet, if we’re going to build an artificial personality, should it match the self-awareness of the model, or the awareness of the model from outside viewers? People find video recordings and sound recordings of themselves unnerving because they don’t match their own self-images. Think about this. If our technology existed back in biblical times and Jesus was making this experiment what artifacts would you want him to use to show what he was really like? Yeah, video. High quality video is as close as we can get to replicating reality.
Now this might sound silly, but I’d like a linking mechanism to Pandora or Rhapsody that would play music from specific months in the past or even specific songs. Movies have soundtracks, so why shouldn’t our personality Wiki? Most of my memory is linked in time to the music I listened to in the past. Since it would be illegal to store copyrighted material, I’d like to have a code linking system to sites that can play the material legally. It would be great to send the month and year in a XML structure to Pandora and it would play the music in the background like a radio show from the time. Ditto for movie clips and TV shows.
This is an ambitious idea that will take me years to complete. Since I’m a lazy kind of guy I probably won’t create it. I’m all ideas and no work. Yet, this idea is appealing and I may work on it in simple ways. I’m constantly trying to figure out when and where I was for certain events. Think of a simple list of 1st through 12th grade with hyperlinks to pages describing those years and showing photos. Or a list of years from 1951 – 2006 with hyperlinks. Those lists would be an easy way to start work and it would help me dredge up memories.