Brian Christian On Why Computers Still Need Humans. Sort Of. We Hope.

If you have ever felt unsettled, confused—or even overjoyed—by the way computers have changed our lives, you should go and listen to writer Brian Christian talk about his critically acclaimed book The Most Human Human on Wednesday at Town Hall.

He can’t exactly soothe any irrational (or rational) fears about an Artificial Intelligence-dominated apocalypse (translation: a book-less, conversation-less world in which globally influential decisions are made largely via text messaging).  

On the other hand, he’s such an affable speaker, he just might.

The once-Seattle-and-now-Philly based writer (and, full disclosure, classmate of mine in the M.F.A. creative writing program at the University of Washington) crafted a lovely book-length collage of essays inspired by his participation in the Turing Test, a bizarre event in which highly specialized computers or “bots” face off against each other to convince a panel of judges they sound the most human.

In my head, I want this event to look something like the final Super Mario Brothers face-off in the ’80s movie The Wizard. But it’s actually way nerdier than that.

The book received lots of national attention last year, and it's finally coming out in paperback. So Christian is back in Seattle for a promo appearance. As he describes it on Facebook, Wednesday’s talk at Town Hall will cover:

Sharing a few pearls of wisdom from my battles with AI on behalf of humanity. Highlights will include:
—What Cleverbot has to do with Sex and the City;
—What Walt Whitman got very, very wrong; and
—What the Tower of Babel has to do with Antarctic Penguins

If you can’t make the event, you should read The Most Human Human. So much more than insider computer science theory, Christian plumbs literature, pop culture, the history of computers and his own experiences to explain the Turing Test and its implications about, well, us.

In another writer's hands, the topic might just be an ephemeral plunge into sci-fi cynicism, but Christian lands upon some lasting and truly lovely insights into person-to-person communication, something that seems to get harder at the exact same rate it becomes easier.

Turns out, examining Artificial Intelligence is just another way of looking in the proverbial mirror. After all, computers are made by us (well, not by people like me, but people who were perhaps like me at some point in the DNA building process). So, in a way, their flaws are our flaws. Their objectives: our greatest desires.

Until the day our iphones develop free will and kill us all.

Just kidding. (I hope.)


Go See It.

Brian Christian on Humans Vs. Computers
Wednesday, 3/7, 6 p.m. $5
Town Hall, 1119 Eigth Ave. (Enter at Seneca St.); 800.838.3006 townhallseattle.org

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