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.