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Re: [xmca] Message in a Bottle

Your thought on chatbots copied here has had me thinking a little, David:

On May 26, 2009, at 6:49 PM, David Kellogg wrote:

[For voluntary communication to take place] ... there has to be exactly what is missing when a human pretends to communicate with a chatbot ... : there has to be a theory of reciprocal willingness to communicate based on the assumption that the other is a subject like oneself. That is the key distinction between subject-subject relations and subject-object relations that I think Leontiev ignored.

The chatbot example is a very good one to make your point. As long as you play along and act as though (or perhaps even believe) that the computer program behind a chatbot represents a reciprocal willingness to communicate as a real person, you can keep up a real dialogue.

I remember a few years ago playing with the Eliza program, a chatbot developed in the 1960's that is alive and well on the internet. This automated Rogerian-style therapist asks things like "how do you feel about that?" It repeats things you say back in question formats that are designed to elicit you to talk more about yourself. As long as you play along, it works surprisingly well, especially if you don't try to give it trick questions. Doing this is an application of that subjective thing we so often do in the movies, the "suspension of disbelief." At first, one may feel inclined give the chatbot the benefit of the doubt, and actually try to seriously talk to it. This kind of dialogue could even be a little therapeutic! Maybe you could use a few moments to describe how you feel about something ...

But as soon as you become exasperated with your interlocuter being just a computer program, the communication breaks down. And what happens next is just what you suggest: you no longer communicate as though there is reciprocal willingness from a fellow subject. You now talk only as though you are speaking with a sophisticated object. You may even get the impulse to devise ways to trick it into acting like the dumb machine you know it really is! That is when you may discover that programmers can have a wicked sense of humor about these things ...

Your generalization about Leontiev makes me want to read where he spoke about subject-subject relations. Given the general, mediational character of human activity, I am wondering, from a CHAT framework, what a "subject-subject" relation actually is. Isn't culture (objects, artifacts, words, bodies, etc. etc.) always in the middle?

- Steve

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