Sherry Turkle on Furbies

Robot Scrabble

WNYC's Radiolab is a show dedicated to making difficult scientific issues accessible and interesting for a popular audience. I sometimes assign segments of episodes to my history of technology students to reward them after particularly dry or difficult readings, so the recent episode on AI, called "Talking to Machines" caught my eye.

Not only does Sherry Turkle weigh in Furbies, but the episode also hearkens back, again and again, to Turing's early questions about what human capacities computers can replace (or improve). Particularly how imitation can function as effectively as the "real" thing in many cases we might not expect, like when an AI researcher unknowingly falls in love with a chatbot... twice. Over and over again we see Turing's "polite convention that everyone thinks" being cautiously extended to hardware and software, often with surprising results.

You can hear the full episode at the link in the text above, or download the "Talking to Machines" episode through iTunes. And if you find yourself wanting more for your morning commute or evening workout, another recent Radiolab also brought up the idea of delegating authority to machines, through what must be one of the strangest artifacts in the Smithsonian's collection: a centuries-old MonkBot.

Happy listening!

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