A blog post by Shelly Palmer, I've Talked to the Future and it Talked back, set me thinking a couple of years ago, so I wrote a blog post. I am re-publishing it because nothing seems to have changed since. His questions were not purely rhetorical.
Indeed, how are we going to distinguish between human and machine? Will a new code of conduct be invented and become part of product instructions, same as the ‘do not immerse in water’ one?
Imagine how many future legal departments could be scratching their collective heads over a certain feature that may open the door to litigation.
The anthropological aspect is a bit trickier, I agree, but has it ever been otherwise? Children turn out well-behaved or not as a result of at least two factors: genetics and environment.
From a certain age onward, peer pressure displaces parental influence. Add to this chance (yes, goddess Fortuna, that one) and the concoction is almost ready.
I am not worried about kids talking to devices. Kids have always talked to objects. The doll praised for going to sleep without a fuss. The toy car scolded for not being speedy enough. It’s part of discovering the world.
I am worried about adults falling in love with their devices. Or virtual assistants. Love affairs are time-consuming, usually at the detriment of things outside them. We should know better. But do we?
It would require us to be not just emotionally intelligent, but ‘artificially’ so – in the etymological sense of the word, i.e. produced by humans, not existent in nature. It”s a cultural shift, no more, no less.
Fair enough, the device talking back to a child may open a wholly new raft of techniques to manage this interaction.
It will be up to adults to acknowledge and take responsibility for this new path to knowledge. We could all learn a new way of acting in a universe where speed and convenience supersede everything else.
Let’s not fool ourselves: the new virtual assistants are not for lazy people who want to save time and energy. It’s a much taller order. It may well be a chance to ‘teach our children well’, as the song goes.
(Neil Young afficionados will recognise the reference, for everyone else here is the YouTube link to the song).