April 20, 2004
Weinberger on Self and I

No, it's not psychoanalysis for the digitally frustrated, it's just David Weinberger explaining what one can, given a little background reading, make out as Weinbergers objection to Artificial Intelligence. His objection is not about Artificial Intelligence - the engineering field - at all, but rather about the deconstruction of our selves into a set of roles that we play in networks:

1. In the real world, we don't identify everyone. We only identify those about whom we have doubts that we have to resolve for some purpose. [...]2. Real world identifying is the connecting of the thing/person at hand with information relevant to our purpose. There is nothing in this process about a "real self" that has "properties." In the same way, digital identification is about connecting what's in hand with other information we need for some purpose. That's the sense in which there's no "I" in "identity."

In other words: People we really know are not subject to a functional reduction in some functional network. That reduction we only perform when we have to and it is invariably a reduction, destroying the self. But obviously we would object loudly to this reduction applied to our own selves - hence the objection to the reduction applied to others at all. We recognize this effort to humanize our transactions with strangers in the old Cluetrain motto "Markets are conversations".
To return to AI, Weinberger sees the ideology that accompanies the engineering of AI as the complete adoption of such a functional reduction, and therefore sees AI as a completely dehumanizing activity.
I'm not sure I agree - or rather, on moral grounds, and by the same introspective objection Weinberger applies, I'm inclined to accept the position - but I simply cannot make the rational part of my mind forget about complete functional mimicry as something groundbreaking and new. Clearly a machine doing that is doing something that is very special and world changing.
But this thought experiment on the possibilities of AI in principle has the disadvantage compared to Weinberger's point of view that it does not address at all the experience of living in a world of networks, and hanging on to our selves while we do so.
The discussion continues on Weinberger's blog.

Posted by Claus at April 20, 2004 01:08 AM | TrackBack (0)
Comments (post your own)

Well, that's a creative reading! I didn't think the piece you're commenting on was about AI at all. It's a bit of specious reasoning trying to dispute the specious assumption that because we go around identifying people all day in the real world, it's ok to replicate that situation in the cyberworld. I meant to argue that we don't go around identifying people all day in the RW.

You're right that mainly when I think about AI, I pay attention to the claims that I think are o'erweening and I rarely think about the good that it can do. I'm not proud of that. But my main interest in AI is due to the way its claims make clear a trend of thought that's been emerging for millennia: The idea that consciousness, life, existence, the universe and anything left over are exhaustively described by their formal properties. AI goes farther - in its strongest sense - and says that if a computer can be formally like a mind or brain (your pick), then it _is_ conscious. I know that this paragraph isn't going to convince anyone otherwise, but that's roughly why I care about AI at all. And it's consistent with your awe at a machine that can completely formally mimic human brain/thought processes. Yeah, you're right, that would be something new and wonderful.

Anyway, your commentary is fascinating. Thanks.

Posted by: David Weinberger on April 20, 2004 2:10 AM

Right, I realize it's probably more a theme than really an argument - but it just seems to me that your reasoning about Identity has approximately the same shape as your AI argument: In both cases it is an issue of the reality of an interpretation versus the reality of the interpreted, and in both cases you seem to favor the argumentat that interpretation, a symbolic, functional act, does not really constitute understanding - an act of a self.

Posted by: dee on April 20, 2004 2:23 AM
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