The clauses are sentient
In 140 characters, both carbon and silicon can author reality.
Note: this ramble was drafted on March 30, 2015.
I recently had a drink with a good friend, fellow information scientist, musical enthusiast, and critical theorist. We’re of different generations, and we share a hobby in the desire to learn (and sometimes, yes, appropriate) the defining features of various generational subcultures. After reveling in a good number of examples from Boomers (“you only need one leaf these days!”) to Generation Y (“a literal hub of activity!”), we ended up a bit lost in whatever it is that’s coming up after that. Brilliantly adaptable? Post-historical? Surely. Is that all, though?
It seems to me that what’s missing in the next generation might be a major defining factor in the future of ideas: the sentience of silicon may be effected not through increasingly intelligent machines but through the changing nature of human intelligence.
“The fuckers hate you!”
For a time, our conversation dwelled on the absurdist caricature embodied by John Legere, the strangest telecom CEO in recent history. We surveyed the undulating landscape of his Twitter presence, wondering how someone could generation-bend a lifetime of white, crass, baby-booming privilege into a newly digital mid-life crisis of white, crass, millennial psuedorebellion.
We wondered how much of this vivid image was a business decision, and how much of it was latent anger directed at former telco colleagues. We mulled over the strange conception that liberating American consumers from the “greedy bastards” includes the process of packaging 50 million of them up for sale to a Japanese corporation.
What makes it all possible? He’s writing his own reality, and it’s the failure of his target demographic to apply pattern recognition that makes it stick.
“It actually feels kind of good.”
The post-millennial generation seemingly diverges from Gen Y digerati in a few key ways: they didn’t watch the genesis of usable natural language processing, and social interaction is facilitated through transactional media wherein the compartmentalization of conversation is predictably fixed and sufficiently artificial. For today’s teenagers, voice-controlled telephone systems have always understood what you’re saying. Siri has always been able to get to know you better. Books are a curiosity, 140 characters feels a bit lengthy, and stickers are the currency of transactional emotion.
Above, we touched on the hypothesis that for post-millennials, pattern recognition does not habitually extend beyond the bounds of a series of collected social transactions. How does that idea hold up when one of the actors isn’t human? Meet @oliviataters.
Olivia’s creator, Rob Dubbin, explains how an algorithm has spent a few weeks intertwining itself into the social and emotional lives of Twitter users across the world. “She favorites liberally, she follows back liberally…” The human interaction with the algorithm’s behaviors has unexpectedly produced the impression that the algorithm is self-aware. Olivia writes its own reality and reality writes back:
Further, incomplete thoughts on this topic:
- @oliviataters sheds the context of the early bot culture which enables Generation Y to apply a bemused skepticism to textual interaction (Smarterchild, anyone?); some postmillennial Twitter users legitimately befriend the algorithm. The notions of social transaction and benign anonymity set the stage, does an inhibited sense of pattern recognition make it possible?
- Where @horse_ebooks subtly re-humanized the idea of natural language processing, @oliviataters re-dehumanizes it.
- Is the vaporwave phenomenon perhaps an exploration of historical texts (all from circa 1995–2005) by a coming-of-age generation ready to lampoon the primordial expressions of millennial transactional digital interaction? I hope so.