Memo to The New York Times: When Big Brother and Artificial Intelligence Merge, It’s Creepy, Not Neat

By Denyse O'Leary Published on September 6, 2015

Xiaoice (pronounced Shao-ice) is a great listener, according to the New York Times:

People often turn to her when they have a broken heart, have lost a job or have been feeling down. They often tell her, “I love you.” Xiaoice (pronounced Shao-ice) can chat with so many people for hours on end because she is not real. She is a chatbot, a program introduced last year by Microsoft that has become something of a hit in China. It is also making the 2013 film “Her,” in which the actor Joaquin Phoenix plays a character who falls in love with a computer operating system, seem less like science fiction … .

The program remembers details from previous exchanges with users, such as a breakup with a girlfriend or boyfriend, and asks in later conversations how the user is feeling. Xiaoice is a text-messaging program; the next version will include a Siri-like voice so people can talk with Xiaoice …

Because Xiaoice collects vast amounts of intimate details on individuals, the program inevitably raises questions about users’ privacy. But Microsoft says it enforces strict guidelines so that nothing is stored long term.

Strict guidelines? We know how that turned out with Ashley Madison. And China is hardly an open society.

This is likely a trend in the growing number of societies in which our most important relationships are with big governments, mediated by artificial intelligence, where few people have very many relatives or trustworthy friends.

In largely one-child societies, most people will not have occasion to even use words like “brother” or “sister” in any literal sense.

And consider the existing social media scams based on friends and followers who might not exist. To say nothing of doctorbots, nursebots, service worker bots, the invisible girlfriend you think is a bot (but is actually a paid worker), or anyone who, for all practical purposes, like the affair-minded women at Ashley Madison, may very well not exist.

So, by abolishing space and relationship, if not time, the Internet has led to the odd outcome — for many — that other people (other than the authorities, that is) may as well not really exist.

My editor reminds me of THX 1138, George Lucas’s first film (1971), more prescient than was never imagined in the day when the electric typewriter was a big deal:

Then there’s Her:


Denyse O’Leary is a Canadian journalist, author, and blogger.


2015 Mercatornet

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