Humans vs Computers – Are You a Bot?

“‘You engage in an exchange of emails or instant messages or Facebook updates. Is the unknown respondent another person, or is it a bot? Is it someone, or is it a computer programming passing as a person? You want to know. Based only on the conversation, can you judge whether the other is human or machine? Is there something in what is said or how it is said that differentiates people from programs?’ (Baldwin, 2009, p. 8-9)

Film director Ridley Scott’s sci fi masterpiece ‘Blade Runner‘, based on Phillip Dick’s novel ‘Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?‘, asks some pressing questions on what it means to be human, and whether we can really distinguish the difference between man and machine. The protagonist Deckard, uses a process called the Voight-Kampff Empathy Test to decide whether the subject is a ‘replicant’ or not. This is based on what we humans call a ‘turing test’, which was introduced by Alan Turing in 1950 to probe the abilities of machines to ‘imitate’ human responses. If a human is unable to discriminate between a person and a machine, then the computer is said to have passed the test. For example, a man is asked to play a game of chess against both a human and a machine, it is very difficult for him to tell which opponent is which, as the machine has a large database of moves it can make which mirror those of real human players; therefore even if the human beats the machine, the machine wins. So in a nutshell, a turing test is a test a human gives to a computer to decide whether or not it is a human, while a reverse turing test is a test a computer gives to a human to determine whether or not it is a machine.
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Week 10: Networking

Interview

This week’s (technically last week’s) reading, titled ‘Rereading Fandom: MySpace Character personas and Narrative Identification’ by Paul Booth (2008) reads like an article carefully constructed by an android trying to dissect the nuances of human identity, due to its own lack of and longing for one. The article explores, or rather examines in excruciatingly painful detail, how ‘fans’ of television characters create an online identity which is not their own, but rather an extension of the object of their fandom. My conclusion after reading the article was that if Booth (2008) is not an android, then he would most likely be a closet MySpace fan, creating profiles in secret for numerous TV characters that he adores. This can be witnessed by his extraordinary wealth of knowledge on the subject, such as his suspicious knowledge of MySpace fan abbreviation: ‘”gg” is a common fan abbreviated for Gilmore Girls’ (Booth, 2008, p. 521-522.) Perhaps he is both android and secret MySpace fan… to lend support to this theory I will point towards his contrasting use of language, where he shifts from using robot-esque vocabulary to explain human identity – ‘The space of this post says a lot about one’s identity. For example, posting a comment to a fan’s persona can indicate similarities and differences upon which to build identity. We can observe this in Figure 1, the comments section of a characters persona of Gilmore Girls’ (Booth, 2008, p. 521) – to using MySpace fan lingo – ‘the poster… writes “DUDE I love gg its my fav show ever!!!!!! I love ur space its so kute!!!!’  Booth (2008, p. 521) then reverts back to his mechanical prose to make it known that the above poster in writing that comment ‘establishes her identity as a fan of Gilmore Girls’. Booth (2008, p. 522) even goes the extra step to ensure that the reader understands the hidden content of the message, ‘”it’s so kute”’ expresses her opinion about the site.’ I didn’t pick up on this when I read it, so I was very thankful that it was pointed out to me, in a way that was easy enough for me to understand. Thanx Booth!

While the writer does make an attempt to explain complex ideas in human friendly ways, he also gets a bit carried away and uses words and phrases that left me scratching my head, for example he states that ‘identity is negotiated by examining what one is not’, is this supposed to be a riddle? He then states that identification ‘thus functions “first by inducing the auditor to participate” and “next by trying to include a partisan statement” between interlocutors’ (Booth, 2008, p. 522), don’t worry, I don’t know what an interlocutor is either. One can understand why Booth (2008, p. 515) would want to be a MySpace fan, as he says ‘a MySpace fan can use narrative to help create identity online’, it is this online identity that clearly resonates within the writers circuitry and it shows in his writing, it is apparent that he is enticed by the notion of using ‘digital technology… to become alive with the fan’s community’ (Booth, 2008, p. 516), something which can only be achieved through constructing a ‘simulated reality’. The article’s main contention is that fans of television shows create MySpace personas of their favourite characters, and in doing so ‘insert themselves into, the narrative of that show’, as a result of this the fans create a space ‘where profiles of offline people and profiles of characters mingle’ (Booth, 2008, p. 517). This character mingling is exampled many times throughout the article, as is the ‘fictionalization of an already fictional narrative’ (Booth, 2008, p. 529). This fictionalisation is the process of branching off from the original story arc of a television show by a fan on MySpace. This concept is difficult to explain in simple terms so instead I will include an excerpt of one of Booth’s many examples which explain this phenomenon better than I ever could: ‘The Gilmore Girls fan profile zachandstaceforever (2007) has hypothesized a text in which protagonist Rory did not break up with her lover Dean during her college years, and instead stayed with him throughout the rest of the series. This contradicts the continuity of the series, which saw Rory later falling for different men, including rebel Jessie and heartthrob Logan.’ (Booth, 2008, p. 527)

All kidding aside, this is one those rare articles that penetrate deeply into the soul of the reader, and is one that needs to be read again and again to really absorb the depth of information and insight. I am going to have to end this blog entry here, as I am afraid there is no way to really articulate the essence of Booth’s (2008) article, as no amount of human words could really do it justice. End Transmission.