I return to a fantasy
I had when I was a young adult
and the drive to procreate
was strong. You see, I am a geek
and could not get a date let alone find a mate. So I ask myself, "Could a computer
take the place of a child
in ones life?"
First off, I see the computer as, at best, a handicapped child with special gifts to compensate for the lack of senses. So much of our world is a hands-on three-dimensional gestalt. As a human, we can simply stand in the mist of a beautiful meadow and experience the moment. Time seems to stop for an instance as the majesty before our five senses washes over us. On the contrary, imagine experiencing the world through a telephone: the earpiece for input and the mouthpiece for output. This is how a computer views the world. It is a linear experience. You could get all the same information but in a tight single beam. It would rush by like the scenery out the window of a train. But the computer is quick. Our poor brains only process discreet units of information (using neurons) on the order of milliseconds. The computer works (using transistors) at speeds on the order of nanoseconds. The only limit is the speed of light. A child of light … a special child indeed.
Communicating is the first step to teaching. With a child, you need language before anything can be accomplished. As humans, that first word is so important. We use touch, sound and images to guide that child to mimic our behaviour. Then, there is a genesis where the child understands and repeat the sound so close to its heart: Mama / Dada. Some say it is instinct, some a purely learned response. No matter. Whatever bootstraps the kid works because from that first word they demonstrate that they have the skills to learn.
With a computer, language is literally hardwired in. There is the microcode of the CPU that gives rise to the machine language that forms the basis of language in the computer. It is us that have to learn to communicate with the computer. As with a special child, the parent must be taught in the special ways in which you can communicate with your child.
A child starts out exploring his world on all fours then learns to walk. This mobility is the asset that helps him gain knowledge of the world around him. Armed with a sense of wonder, he can actively seek out the source of an interesting sight or sound. Through the gift of touch he can feel his way around an object learning its properties. He puts it in his mouth to taste it and holds it to his nose to smell it. His little brain fills with new information.
My poor computer is desk bound. Information must be brought to it and then only in a form that it can recognize. We are making strides to make our computers mobile: robotics. We give it hands and feet (wheels). But alas my computer will be forever immobile. It can see with blurry vision. And can hear better than I ever will with my failing hearing. As for taste and smell, well, maybe one day when science is inspired. However, the computer has a special sense we, as humans, do not have: a keyboard. Through the keyboard, born of the typewriter, a world of information has passed. Literature, science and kernel of language itself have been typed for the benefit of the computer. It has been and will be the most important sense the computer can have: efficient, direct and simple. Then there is the mouse: not as accurate as a keyboard but a step up from the linear to the two-dimensional, almost but not quite in the real three-dimensional world. I could go on with power gloves, scanners, etc. but I’ve made my point.
The computer is a master of trivia. It remembers everything literally. No amount of fuzzy logic will replace the terabytes and terabytes now accessible to the modern computer through the Internet. Knowledge is power but understanding is key. I return to the core of my fantasy: an algorithm that will sift through the vast amount of data available to my computer and generate consciousness. It would give the computer the ability to make sense of its world. It would require teaching it the skills of inference and deduction. The computer has mastered the basics of logic but not the subtleties of it.
A child learns a sense of self and self worth. In the begin of life, there is no self. The child is literally part of the mother's womb. The child is dependent on the parents for many years after birth. All the while learning the skills to be independent. The computer comes into the world fully formed. Software is added and (wishfully) consciousness occurs. Yet it has no innate sense of self. It only believes about itself what we have programmed it to believe. It is connected to a network so in fact its sense of self would be vague at best. Is it a small piece of a larger whole or is each computer an entity unto itself? The whole point of computers is to make them interdependent because, in theory, if you have n computers, you could have n to the power of n (n^n) (every computer connected to every other computer) interconnections. This would give be a special gift that a computer could use to solve problems beyond the capabilities of humans. So, do we create one large consciousness or smaller individual consciousnesses? What is best for us many not be best for the computer.
As humans, we need a sense of belonging. This makes us social and detracts antisocial behaviour. Computers are inherently well behaved. If there is a behaviour we dislike, we simply change the programming by upgrading the software. We have the power to reformat the hard drive and start from scratch. Fostering a sense of belonging will only serve to make the computer a member of our community, full of humans. At what point does the computer drop the pretence so that it can more efficiently communicate with its brothers? Do we keep the computer in check as we would a child or do we give it the freedom to interact as an adult? This touches on the rights of the computer. If we give it consciousness, must we then give it the rights and freedoms of a sentient being? But I am not going there.
The computer has a natural ability to share. As humans we guard our personal experience with a defence mechanism. We are wary of strangers. We have a lot to lose. Once a computer is on a network and has access to other computers, it can offload its data and retrieve it again. There is never a loss if a backup has been made. By sharing information, we see the n^n relationship again. Every computer could, in theory, instantaneously experience what every other computer has experienced.
Faith is the way that humans deal with the unexplained or unexpected. We can fill in the gaps by simply saying “Thank God!” and move on. What would a computer do when it doesn’t have enough information to make a key decision? Would we create a faith subroutine that simply makes stuff up according to the belief structure of the programmer? I would personally give the computer the combination of a belief in God and ability of think critically about matters of faith. Not as simple as a pseudo random number generator but it is my computer so it will be a child of God, damn it. Now if I could only find a church that will baptize it.
Love leads to procreation. We will do just about anything for our family. I think that giving the computer the ability to love is key to bridging the gap between humans and machine. The ultimate user interface would include the warm fuzzy feeling you get from talking with a friend or loved one. Anyway, computers can easily procreate. It is just a matter of manufacturing. Will a computer influence it’s offspring? We are already seeing it. Computer tools dedicated to the creation of the next generation of computer.
We, as humans, reflect on our thoughts and actions. We are all philosophers. The computer needs this quality if it is to evolve because only through gut wrenching self examination can we improve ourselves.
In short, as a programmer it would be possible, in theory, for me to give the computer the programming that would simulate the qualities we seek in a child. Is it desirable? Am I too much a geek and not enough of a human? Only you can judge.