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Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Passing the Turing Test

Bow uses smart technology all the time. He swipes to select photos.

He watches recorded livestreams to see what I and his friend Charla have been up to while away from the pens.

He is a big fan of Lady Gaga, who excites him. But he watches Julie Andrews respectfully and quietly while she delivers a speech on the history of musical theater.

Bow has logged countless hours watching YouTube videos -- countless because they cannot be counted by the internet  bots, since Bow does not have his own account. They cannot tell if I am the one watching or Bow is. Because of this, they totally ignore the chimpanzee demographic when pitching ad space to advertisers. It seems sad that Bow's opinions and preferences should not be tallied along with everyone else's, but then I have to remind myself that there are plenty of humans who watch YouTube and whose opinions also do not count. Not everybody has a YouTube account. Many watch, but not only do they not subscribe -- there's no way that they could subscribe. And YouTube, trying to corner all the big spenders in Gen Z need to know exactly who you are in order to count your vote. Or so they think.

Livestram with Julia

But that's not really how the free market operates. The market does not need to know who paid for the bananas. It just counts how many bananas were sold, and what price they went for. Does it matter if the person watching is not human or not an adult or not a voter?

Back in the day, when I started Project Bow, I was hoping that one day, when Bow was literate and on the internet in total anonymity, he would pass the Turing test. I noted that we as humans had brains that are wired in a variety of different ways, and yet we use the same languages to communicate with one another.

We don't just anthropomorphize chimpanzees when we ascribe to them the thoughts and feelings  we would have had under the same circumstances. We do the same to our fellow man. No two brains are alike. No two have the same wiring diagram for processing language.

When I wrote the article embedded above, I was attending a conference at Dartmouth, and Sword and Bow and I were staying in rented house in Canaan, New Hampshire.

With us was the first Project Bow intern, Samina Farooqi. Since then, Samina has gotten her Ph.D, Sword has graduated from high school and is a freshman in college, and Bow is about to turn sixteen. Bow is a member of Gen Z, computer literate and internet savvy. But his input doesn't count, because he is not a subscriber.

I liked it better when the anonymity of the internet gave everyone a chance at passing the Turing test no matter who they were, how they were wired or whether they had a Google account .

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Out in the Snow

We have been snow bound for several days now. I have gone for a walk each day, but Bow has not wanted to go out.

At first there was not much snow on the ground, but it was nice to take a walk down the path in the snow flurries.

On the second day, there was much more snow on the ground, though by afternoon when I took my walk, it was not snowing any longer.

On the third day, I saw deer bounding over the path. On the fourth day, it was so cold out that I cut my walk very short, and we concentrated on grooming.

 And today, on the fifth day, Bow asked to go outside. I did not know whether to take the request seriously. Sometimes when he is bored, but it is too cold out, he will drag me all the way to the outer door, but never actually go out. But this afternoon he jumped out without hesitation. Naturally, his feet never touched the snow. He landed on the bench.

Bow shook his head at the cold, but did not ask to go back in. Instead, he lay on the rim of the bench's backrest and sunbathed for a good long time, before asking to go back inside.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

A Place of No Return

Do you remember the scene from Pinocchio where the bad guys are recruiting children to go into their Sanctuary? (Yes, I'm going to call it a sanctuary, because it's a place where children are liberated from adults.)

The real problem with the proposition from the fox and the cat was not just that it was a misrepresentation of Pleasure Island as a Sanctuary free from care. The real problem was that it was a Place of No Return."They never come back ... as boys."

I know of a lot of places with a hard sell, but no right of return. They include sanctuaries for chimpanzees and old folks homes. These places are advertised as Pleasure Island where the isolated chimpanzee or elderly person can find friends of his own age or species, but they don't offer a money back guarantee or a free ticket home if you don't like it there. In fact, many old folks homes expect the elderly to sell their house and give them all the money. They have complicated contracts, so you can't just decide to go there as a vacation and then return home when you have had your fill. I have known a few people who went into those homes. They never come back out alive.

By this, of course, I do not mean that the institutions intentionally kill the elders who enter there. Most die of old age. But once you put yourself there, it is very hard to leave. The same is true for chimpanzee sanctuaries.

Once a chimpanzee enters the sanctuary system, he might be sent to a different sanctuary if the one he is in turns out to be a death trap, but he can never leave the sanctuary system. There is no going home. If I were a chimpanzee, I would be afraid to go there for that reason alone, much less what might happen to me during the first introduction to  other inmates.

"If you really respect Bow, you would leave it up to him to choose," my primatologist friend said to me recently. Really? And if I had a little boy like Pinocchio, I suppose you think I should leave it up to him to accept or reject the offer of the fox and the cat? Because after all, that is the libertarian position, right?

Wrong. Which brings me to the recent issue of age of consent that came up in my libertarian circles. Most of us agree that minors do need to be protected by their parents and should not be allowed to make irrevocable decisions about their lives without the help of a parent while they are yet too immature to be emancipated. Most libertarians, even the radical ones, understand that being a human does not automatically equip one to deal with complex, life altering issues from day one. Literate fifteen-year-olds are in most cases still not ready to sell themselves to the highest bidder.

"But if you believe that Bow can read and write, then why won't you let him decide for himself?" For the same reason I would not let any teen sell himself to a place of no return.

The truth is, if there were a place that Bow could go for a fun vacation, I would probably let him go. I would use that time to take a vacation, myself. But I am not shipping him off to Pleasure Island -- because if it were a good place, they would not have a no return policy.