Gongol.com Archives: December 2010
Brian Gongol

December 20, 2010

Computers and the Internet Personality engines: They're on the way
(Video) Psychologists would probably say it's much more complicated, but for most purposes, it's probably adequate to say that you are your habits. We define ourselves by behaving in ways that reflect our personalities, and those patterns of behavior are, at least for most people, at least partly predictable. This raises a question: How many habits or patterns does it take to define a personality? And, to take it a step further: How many habits or patterns would it take, when programmed into a computing system, to pass a Turing test? In other words, what is the difference between "you" and a sophisticated computer program modeled on you? It's not purely an abstract question: Presidents have been known to ask themselves "What would Teddy Roosevelt do?" or "What would Abraham Lincoln do?" What if we could, in fact, program a personality engine to tell us what they likely would have done? On a personal level, many people would probably like to have a residual personality engine for their loved ones: Maybe you could never meet your great grandmother in person, but you could ask a program modeled on her personality what she would advise you to do in a given situation. We turn to computers and the Internet for a variety of answers to our fact-based questions, but we haven't yet learned how to ask (and receive) answers based more upon subjective advice. Microsoft has started down this path, positioning its Bing search engine as a "decision engine" -- but it's barely the first step down the road. We rely upon people to advise us -- and undoubtedly, many of us seek the counsel of those who are no longer alive. Perhaps the development of personality engines would allow us to overcome their physical absence and help us to make better decisions -- which, ultimately, would serve tremendous good. Of course, then we face the problem that people evolve, change, grow, and learn over time. What would a personality engine do? Would a Leonardo da Vinci personality engine behave with the habits and patterns of the man from 500 years ago? Or would we expect him to be more enlightened, sharing 21st Century views of a civilized society? We would undoubtedly be expected to seek counsel from one either way, but which one would it be? The original da Vinci, or one who had adapted to a diverse modern world in which cultures interact freely? Would erasing the prejudices of the past make the advice received less authentic? Moreover, the whole notion raises another question: To what extent would a personality engine also serve as a judgment engine?

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