When The Computer Is YOU: The Rise Of Proxy AI – Forbes

In 1945, Vannevar Bush published “As We May Think.” In it he proposed a Memex, a massive microfilm storage device where users could navigate between documents to concepts throughout the database. His concept directly inspired the invention of hypertext by Ted Nelson and Douglas Engelbart. The hyperlinking that enables so much of our online experience— such as this link regarding hypertext— owes much to Bush’s vision.

70 years after his essay we live in a world he imagined, despite writing two years before the first working transistor.

Inscription honoring Vannevar Bush in the lobby of MIT’s Building 13, which is named after him. (Photo: Creative Commons BY-SA 3.0)

What new media might arise as a result of advances in Artificial Intelligence (AI)? I propose one, the proxy AI, as in a proxy for a specific person or people. The concept has lingered in science fiction for years. Netflix’s dystopian drama, Black Mirror, recently experimented with a similar notion. Later this century, it will likely become real.

A proxy AI would simulate the intellectual and emotional responses of a specific human being. A proxy AI remains a simulacra, not the ‘real’ thing (see Baudrillard regarding simulation and reality). We could question the accuracy of the simulation, but we’d in fact be faced with a new entity built on the digital outputs and detritus of the original.

Some historical figures have left vast archives expressing perspectives and priorities. Often, others have left commentaries on these individuals. Our emerging online world provides ever-growing realms of data that could be used (and misused) to characterize specific individuals. All of these sources are biased, some horribly so. Nonetheless, an AI could agglomerate, even curate, these digital footprints and build simulations. Simulations of us.

Literary Companions or Criminal Intent

Philosophers from Plato to Saussure have criticized writing as inferior to live speech largely for being divorced from its creator. With proxy AIs, authors could accompany their works. Real-time, a reader could query an author’s proxy. Historical and literary characters could dialogue with us or with each other. Into what subjects might Einstein and Shakespeare wander? AI proxies would add dimensions to our experiences of literature, non-fiction, even to the generation and elaboration of concepts.


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