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Is Phone Sex a Sign of Conscious Thought?

The new movie Her asks "What is love?" David Gelernter calls for a special status for "consciousness." And Alan Turing asks, "How can we tell?"

by
Charlie Martin

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January 9, 2014 - 1:30 pm
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The new movie Her is just one of many in which a mechanical or electronic construct becomes a character in a human’s story. HAL 9000 in 2001: A Space Odyssey, Commander Data, HARLIE, the robots of Lost in Space and Forbidden Planet, Asimov’s robots, and a hundred less-memorable movies and TV shows.

Okay, maybe Julie Newmar was memorable, but for other reasons.

Her carries it on a little further, when the main character falls in love with the personality that serves as the front end for a new operating system. They eventually consummate their love in what is supposed to be a rather steamy, and apparently mutually satisfying, episode of what’s a whole new meaning of “phone sex.” (I say “supposed to be” because I haven’t seen the movie yet; in any case, this isn’t a review of the movie.)

So here’s a question for you: when Samantha, the operating system’s personality, has an orgasm, is it real or is she faking it?

Expressed a little more generally, Alan Turing started asking the same questions in 1950 in his famous paper “Computing Machinery and Intelligence,” which begins with:

I propose to consider the question, “Can machines think?”

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I'm not convinced that most people can think.
32 weeks ago
32 weeks ago Link To Comment
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All Comments   (35)
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Never thought there was much to Turing's test, and the duration of its application is typically much too short -- it should continue through multiple lunar cycles, at least.

A better approach would be to have the subject of the test observe a boring, repetitive source of sensory input for an hour a day over a month, and report on the spontaneous thoughts, impulses, and feelings that are observed. Any competent observer familiar with anapannasati will be able to see if the entity is conscious, mindful, and if it can refine itself through practice.
32 weeks ago
32 weeks ago Link To Comment
Well, we cou;d go all yogacara and ask whether consciousness is real at all.
31 weeks ago
31 weeks ago Link To Comment
I had one lover who responded to anything I said over the phone........yes....don't ask what I made her do..........bwahahaha.....
32 weeks ago
32 weeks ago Link To Comment
Maybe it's just me, but I've always preferred the REAL thing.
32 weeks ago
32 weeks ago Link To Comment
"Now, how will you prove to the zombie — and to yourself — that you really are conscious?"

You don't prove a cheeseburger, you have a cheeseburger. Same w/ consciousness.
32 weeks ago
32 weeks ago Link To Comment
So, like that cheeseburger, hand me your consciousness so I can see it too.
32 weeks ago
32 weeks ago Link To Comment
Sorry Charlie...always wanted to say that.

Anyway, you get the drift. All the big heads got it a long time ago. Whether or not somebody perceives somebody else's consciousness is...well...less knowable than being aware of one's self.
32 weeks ago
32 weeks ago Link To Comment
You're not alone. That damned fish.
32 weeks ago
32 weeks ago Link To Comment
"You're not alone."

You said it, not me!
32 weeks ago
32 weeks ago Link To Comment
Good summary article, Charlie.

But if Turing ever heard Scarlett Johansson's voice, I think it would have answered many questions for him.
32 weeks ago
32 weeks ago Link To Comment
I think Joaquin was more his taste.
32 weeks ago
32 weeks ago Link To Comment
But ... never mind.
32 weeks ago
32 weeks ago Link To Comment
She's obviously faking.
32 weeks ago
32 weeks ago Link To Comment
All is vanity.
32 weeks ago
32 weeks ago Link To Comment
In my young and dumb days I listened to my professors saying, "B F Skinner, who art in Hahvud/ hallow-ed be thy box." For the young and dumb, the mechanistic and mathematical notion of behaviorism is very appealing. If you're an aspiring leftist apparatchik, the notion that if you control the stimulus, you control the response is almost orgasmic. Psychology majors don't want to help people, they want to control them!

I'm not religious if that is defined as adhering to some doctrine or sect; I don't believe in an anthropomorphic god. But I do believe that the predicate of humanity is consciousness, and consciousness is more than then mathematical firing of synapses. Computers are really good at thinking. They don't do feeling; and human consciousness is the blending of thinking and feeling.
32 weeks ago
32 weeks ago Link To Comment
Okay, Art, now -- prove to me that you're conscious without referring to how you feel conscious.

I share the feeling, I don't know hjow to experimentally confirm it.
32 weeks ago
32 weeks ago Link To Comment
The "feeling" *is* the consciousness. You experimentally confirm it by introspection. The only consciousness you can directly "observe" is your own. Any other consciousnesses must be inferred. Of course, the evidence is overwhelming that these other consciousnesses do indeed exist -- not due to a single definitive experiment, but to massive amounts of circumstantial evidence.
29 weeks ago
29 weeks ago Link To Comment
It may be conscious but if it doesn't have the brains to use that door knob to the outside world then it doesn't pass the Paul Atriedes Test cuz I doubt A.I.'s will motorcycle around the island of Bali for the fun of it.
32 weeks ago
32 weeks ago Link To Comment
I'm not convinced that most people can think.
32 weeks ago
32 weeks ago Link To Comment
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