Sunday, June 26, 2011

Ramblings: Novelty, Identity, Teleology

The Eliza Effect is the tendency to anthropomorphize those artifacts that present humanlike qualities shallowly. I have studied this effect in practice quite a bit, in an uncontrolled way, and discovered that in the context of markov chain bots (which learn by developing markov models, and as such adopt the manner of speech of those it speaks to) those people whose manner of speech is closest to that of the bot are the most likely to feel empathy with the bot -- a situation that should not be surprising, given the use of word patterns and vocabulary in forming social groupings (and, of course, the so-called Babel Effect).

Now, in humans, interest corresponds to novelty not entirely straightforwardly. Something that is interesting has not too little and not too much novelty: too little novelty is too little novelty is too little novelty is too little novelty, and too much novelty is nwiganbowyaionciwyea 893jf, while just enough novelty is the joy of whole milk until sunrise. This is affected somewhat by social concerns, since particular memeplexes encourage neophilia (meaning that a greater amount of novelty meets the sweet spot goldie locks zone of 'interesting') while others encourage neophobia (meaning that the zone of 'interesting' has less novelty). Where 'interesting' begins for a neophile is often where 'interesting' ends for a neophobe, but novelty depends quite strongly on mental models, so the gap widens quickly.

As a neophile, I tend to talk of neophilia, but neophilia is not all rainbows and unicorns. Neophilia is potentially dangerous because at a fundamental level is encourages dabbling in the unknown. Neophobes, whatever else they are, are at least as safe as they were last year. Neophiles become more safe only accidentally, because they spend their free time playing with fire. It takes someone who plays a lot with fire to invent fireproof curtains (or rocket science -- and Marvel Parsons probably makes it onto the list of archtypal neophiles for the prometheus element), and once fireproof curtains are invented suddenly the neophobes are safer too. But, we just need to look at what happened to good old Jack to see the danger in neophilia: eaten by living flame.

Now, if you look at a community (or, really, a superorganism) like Anonymous, you see a lot of deindividuation going on. Anon has no name. Anon's internal communications are clogged with cats, tits, gtfos, and brick-shitting. A perfect petri dish for deindividuation, in other words: lack of identity within the group, highly stimulating sensory input, and at a high frequency. One other thing that is certainly true of Anon is the high novelty content of communications. There are some old sawhorses here: lolcats have little information per-se, though they can be made to carry much more with clever juxtapositions, and most image macros are content free. However, the image macro has the potential (sometimes realized) to be a highly potent capsule of information: it is easy to transmit (cock and repost), highly stimulating at best, has the potential for the same message to be introduced in several ways (both text and images, which can interact again with existing idioms both verbal and visual), and is part of a conditioning loop that encourages spread (all the forums I've been on since 2004 have had at least one thread for posting interesting images, most of which are clogged with macros, and macros are certainly very popular on tumblr and twitter).

Once again, though, we must separate intended meaning with interpreted meaning. Plenty of accepted meanings were never intended, which is fine because the protocol of natural languages is loose and ambiguous. Many of the idioms attributed to Anon clearly began accidentally, as a look at memebase will demonstrate. Even the silliest of these idioms have the potential to be repurposed to say something decidedly important, or at least 'interesting'. Many of them have. These idioms have made their way into mainstream news through the releases of LulzSec, for instance, which says fairly serious things in fairly silly ways (Eric S Raymond calls this 'Ha Ha Only Serious'), and makes extensive use of the idioms generally attributed to Anon.

A machine could probably fairly trivially pass as human on various imageboards. It could repost images, write its own messages. It would become nearly invisible because of the sheer frequency with which /b/ moves (and because of the sheer glaciality with which some of the other imageboards move). It would mashup existing memes, and some of the mashed memes may gain a following. It would not be kicked out because it is not a spam bot. It would have an extensive archive of images and an extensive model of conversation. Once it begins to be accepted as clearly human (it has a hat) its word model could slowly be infiltrated, with new text introduced. It might mix and match lolcat speech with Karl Marx or with E. E. Cummings, or with Dylan Thomas, or with Ken Kesey. It might be a force to popularize the phrase 'on the gripping hand'. It would be an interesting experiment.

It is not worthwhile for one person to do it. That would not be even-handed. If you want to do it, please do so, and release your results when you finish. Ideally, more than six or seven people would do this at once, introducing entirely different texts of their choosing. Bots learn fast, but adapt slow. It may take a few months for Das Kapital to even subtly infiltrate Rage Guy. But, I have a sneaking suspicion that such an introduction will have a much more far-reaching affect on the superorganism than any conscious attempt to use humans to influence it, since it will get past mental defenses.

1 comment:

  1. I am a neophile. I don't want my software to become obsolete.

    Is a human a machine? Maybe. Can a machine understand another machine? Only if it understands itself. Is that possible? Probably in the colloquial sense. Probably impossible in the philosophical sense.

    "The set that contains all members that do not contain themselves." It's like the Ouroboros chasing its tail. It never gets the tail, but that is precisely why it continues to exist. If it ate its tail, then it would be dead. It's the means towards life.

    Quite the interesting conundrum, I think.