It should be no surprise to anyone else with young children that Frozen is popular in our house. Also probably not surprising, is that the kids and I have large swaths of it memorized.
This morning on the way to school, the kids were quoting Olaf.
Olaf: You built me. Remember that?
Elsa: And you’re alive?
Olaf: Umm…I think so?
The kids thought it was silly that Olaf wasn’t sure if he is alive or not. So I asked the kids how they know for sure that they are alive. I wasn’t expecting Descartes or anything – I was just curious to know what their answer would be.
“I can wiggle!”
Me: So can jello, and it’s not alive.
“I wear tennis shoes.”
Me: Yes, but sometimes you get rocks in your shoes, too, and they’re not alive.
“I can stick out my tongue while wiggling and wearing tennis shoes at the same time. Aaaaah!”
I began to wonder if it would ever occur to a robot to stick out its tongue in an attempt to prove that it is “alive.”
I wish I understood more of Alan Turing’s work. I’ll have to pick up a biography at some point (add it to my ever-growing “To Read” list). It is his work that led to the Turing Test – if a human, through written conversation, can not discriminate the difference between a computer and a human, than the computer can be said to be “intelligent,” or to be “thinking” in a very basic sense. This is the basis for those aggravating CAPTCHAs we see everywhere. (Completely Automated Public Turing test to tell Computers and Humans Apart. Really. Awkward acronym, no?)
As I understand it, one of Turing’s ideas for creating artificial intelligence is that rather than create a machine with a complex “mind,” it would be best to create a machine with a simple, child-like mind, and teach it.
I don’t believe that a child’s mind is as simple as he would imagine.
There have been a lot of devices used in the science fiction and fantasy worlds to either illustrate “self-ness” or create sympathy for the automaton. Self-awareness (Short Circuit‘s Johnny Five); curiosity (“Star Trek: the Next Generation’s” Lieutenant Commander Data); hope and discontent (Philip K. Dick); subjective morality (Pinocchio); depression and paranoia (Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy‘s Marvin the Paranoid Android and Star Wars‘ C-3PO); love (A.I.‘s David); being loved (Frosty the Snowman); sarcasm (ask an iPhone’s Siri, “What is the average airspeed of an unladen swallow?”).
My kids are still young, so I hope they can be forgiven this, but they are only familiar with a tiny bit of the sci/fi fantasy multiverse. (I assure you, we’re working on it.) Without any point of reference for proving life v. automation, they came up with silliness.
I am alive, because I know how to have fun.
If people never did silly things nothing intelligent would ever get done. – Ludwig Wittgenstein