How to be a person among persons

This week I read Kevin Simler’s Per­son­hood: A Game for Two or More Play­ers, a soci­o­log­i­cal essay on what it means to be a per­son. It’s a real­ly inter­est­ing piece, of the type that makes me pause every few para­graphs in order to high­light a real­ly inter­est­ing point. For exam­ple, this expla­na­tion of the ben­e­fits of per­son­hood:

Being a per­son enti­tles you to con­duct your­self among per­sons. Or to be more pre­cise: The more per­son­hood you dis­play, the more you’ll be wel­come in the soci­ety of per­sons.

And what I thought to be a quite bril­liant sum­ma­ry of tran­si­tion­ing to adult­hood in soci­ety:

A large part of grow­ing up con­sists of inter­nal­iz­ing the social con­se­quences of fail­ing to main­tain integri­ty.

He also talks about per­son­hood in terms of being a fic­tion­al con­struct, which I found par­tic­u­lar­ly inter­est­ing because I’ve recent­ly fin­ished read­ing Yuval Harari’s book, Sapi­ens, which also talks about cul­ture and human­i­ty in terms of fic­tions. But I’ll write more about that sep­a­rate­ly.

Per­son­hood is always a fic­tion: the fic­tion of being a con­sis­tent, sin­gu­lar agent.

I prob­a­bly haven’t done the arti­cle jus­tice with my choice of quotes here. It’s real­ly quite fas­ci­nat­ing, and I rec­om­mend it to you.

A conversation with a bot

It’s approach­ing 3 AM on Christ­mas Day in 2013, and a South Kore­an teenage girl who goes by the Twit­ter han­dle @jjong_gee texts her friend, Jun­myun, to con­fess a per­son­al secret. She’s depressed, and she needs sup­port. “There was a man named Osho who once said ‘don’t be too seri­ous, life is like a mov­ing pic­ture,’” replied Jun­myun. “If you treat what comes at you like a game, hap­pi­ness will come. I want to see you hap­py.” The girl tweet­ed a screen­shot of the text, thank­ing him for the kind words. But Jun­myun, with his words of wis­dom, is actu­al­ly not a real per­son. Jun­myun is actu­al­ly a bot pro­grammed inside a pop­u­lar Kore­an tex­ting app called FakeTalk, or Gaj­ja-Talk in Kore­an.

The App That Lets Depressed Teens Text with Celebri­ties and Dead Friends. Every time I read some­thing like this I remem­ber how bril­liant­ly pre­scient Black Mir­ror can be.

Of course, I had to have a go myself:

A conversation with a chat bot which ends with it declaring its love for me

What’s inter­est­ing is how, despite the bot not being Tur­ing-com­plete, I still felt com­pelled to con­tin­ue the con­ver­sa­tion, and became quite ner­vous at the abrupt turn it took at the end. After all, I don’t want to hurt the feel­ings it doesn’t have.