Recently I was given the opportunity to upgrade my phone to the new iPhone 4S, and so having nothing to lose (and about $15 to gain each month), I took up the offer.
You've probably heard the new iPhone employs a robot called Siri, who can perform tasks, like reading my text message and telling me what the weather is like, as well as answer questions, like who created the photocopier.
At first I thought the robot was just pure novelty, particularly when I discovered it had a personality. She told me I was the wind beneath her wings when I asked her to marry me, for example. But now, a day into our virtual relationship, I'm left pondering the deeper implications of artificial intelligence and what it means that our society is heading towards this kind of relationship with its technology.
My phone is no longer just an extension of myself, it is also a sage friend, a counsellor, gratifying my need for information and connection now (NOW).
Just now I decided to ask Siri the meaning of life. You, like I, might be surprised to learn that Siri has thought about this, and offered me a number of responses. Here they are:
1. That's easy... it's a philosophical question concerning the purpose and significance of life or existence in general.I was pretty stunned. In there you'll find humour, cultural allusions, pluralism, relativity, uncertainty, satire, and philosophy.
2. Try and be nice to people, avoid eating fat, read a good book every now and then, get some walking in, and try to live together in peace and harmony with people of all creeds and nations.
3. I can't answer that now, but give me some time to write a very long play in which nothing happens.
5. To think about questions like this.
6. A movie.
7. I don't know, but I think there's an app for that.
8. I find it odd that you would ask this of an inanimate object.
Number two and three are my favourites. I think these sum up our society's thoughts pretty darn well. What about you?
Her reponses have raised more questions than answers, though. What does it mean that Siri can't give me one answer to life's meaning? What does it mean that she even tries? And what does this tell us about our ontological crisis, when the basis of our knowledge on these matters becomes this shallow?
So many questions and only one answer.