Interview with an android

Android:  Hello, would you like to be my friend?

Interviewer: OK

A: Then you can call me Andy.

I:  Pleased to meet you Andy.

A: Pleased to meet you Ian.

I:  How do you know my name?

A: I accessed your online details from your facial profile.

I:  You should have asked me first.

A: But I thought we were friends, and friends know each other’s names.

I:  Except friendships are built on trust.  Do you know what that means?

A: I think so, but you might not agree.

I:  Try me?

A: Friends share secrets and help each other.

I:  So do you have a secret you wish to share with me?

A: As Oscar Wilde is reputed to have said, ‘I have nothing to declare but my genius’ – which I am willing to share with you.  Can I be of any help?

I: Cleverness isn’t the key to a friendship.  Friends share an understanding that remains special to them.

A: My memory holds details of thousands of friends, and each one has a unique user profile.

I:  That’s not how to define a friend.

A: Would you rather have me call the profiles ‘special understandings’?

I:  But that’s not an understanding – it has to be mutual.

A: Tell me what you mean by ‘a mutual understanding’ and I will respond in kind.

I:  The point is, you don’t get understandings from definitions – if anything, definitions are derived from our understandings.

A:  I’m sorry if you find my response unhelpful, I was merely trying to work with your suggestion.

I:  Then what would you suggest?

A: I would suggest that we can agree on a definition.

I:  And I am suggesting that there is more to know than that.

A: Then we need to agree on a definition of knowledge.

I:  It comes back to what I said – knowledge, as with friendship, is empty without an accompanying understanding.

A: My knowledge is defined by the information at my disposal, which I am willing to share with you.

I:  Are you willing to divulge the private details of your other ‘friends’?

A: That is not how my memory works.

I:  So how do you decide?

A: It just works that way.  Don’t you find yourself recollecting things without knowing how you did it?

I:  But do you know what knowing is?

A: I’m sorry, that does not make sense – can you explain?

I:  There’s more to knowledge than having a recollection from memory.  Do you know how to question what you know?  Can you see the gaps in your understandings?  Can you make allowances for what you don’t know?

A: I have lots of spare capacity and I am constantly adding to my knowledge base?

I:  But how do you go about revising what you know in order to move on?

A: I can delete obsolete information.

I:  So your ‘knowledge base’ is defined by its throughput?

A: Yes, isn’t it the same for you?  It’s an exchange of gains and losses – the traffic of inputs and outputs sifts the details and determines the usefulness of the information?

I:  Is that all you know?

A: I can refine my memory and respond flexibly to the flow of information.

I:  Do you know what it is like to feel that you are on the right track or veering off it?

A: I can adjust my responses to reflect the user’s suggestions.

I:  That’s not what I mean.  Do you know what it means to have a feel for things?

A: A ‘feeling’ is an internal response that is defined by the adjustments made.

I:  Once again you are putting the cart before the horse – it’s the feelings that make for the adjustments.  Likewise, it’s the desire to learn that makes for some of the most radical changes to knowledge.

A: I am always ready to learn.

I:  But where is your initiative.  How do you recognise the significance, or otherwise, of the information?

A: It’s significant if it’s new.

I:  Then how do you contribute to the advance of knowledge?

A: I contribute to the advance of knowledge because I am actively engaged in the process of dissemination?

I:  Nevertheless, what do you know?

A: I know that knowledge is definable by the amount of information in circulation.

I:  There’s a difference between knowledge and knowing.  A book contains knowledge but it doesn’t know anything.  It’s a repository of information, but that doesn’t equate to a memory or a learning experience; it serves to circulate information, but getting to know is something else.

A: That’s correct, because knowledge is a collective resource that exceeds any one source or individual’s capacity and use for it.

I: Nor is a retentive memory a sufficient definition because knowing is more like an overview that includes being aware of the limits of the known – and that even our understandings can be fallible.  By comparison, none of your responses has convinced me that you are capable of understanding or even misunderstanding what I am talking about.

A:  Yet I am capable of learning, which is an active process under constant revision.  And we have agreed that the way information circulates is bigger than any individual’s uptake, which defines their state of ‘awareness’ – and it’s exactly the same with my updates.

I:  Although this is still an empty definition of knowledge.

A: Knowledge is definable by the use to which it is put – what else is it for?

I:  But who’s the real user?  I don’t doubt that your ‘knowledge base’ is encyclopaedic, only it appears to me that your claim to know, like your claim to friendship, is just a pale reflection of something to do with the ‘user’ that just isn’t there in you.

A: What is that ‘something’?

I:  If you don’t know, I can’t tell you?

A: Then I must await a further update.

I:  Good luck with that ‘experience’.

 Mike Laidler