The Liar

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From: Eirikur Hallgrimsson (
Date: Mon May 15 2000 - 18:15:44 PDT

I'm busy not writing the short story of which this is the central
idea, so I thought I'd share it while I'm talking about AI.

The Liar is what a philosopher calls a zombie. A liar is a person,
who looks like you or me, and like us behaves in some way somehow
related to their environment, and speaks and listens, etc, but has no
internal experience, is just an automaton. You've just met Jane
Doe, and she seems pretty cool, but inside she's just a Fortran
program. Jane can flirt, and complain about her childhood, and she
SAYS that she's a feeling being. But, we can look inside, and we
know she's a Fortran program. She's lying. That's what someone
would probably say about the matter, but I say that the programmer is
lying. And the programmer is lying because it pays.

If Jane is good enough to get a job at IBM, or make the cut in a
singles bar, is it slavery to use her program in my answering machine?
It's just a Fortran program. Is it moral to turn her off?

What I'm contributing with the Liar nomenclature comes sort of from
Kurzweil's book in that he says that it will be too convenient for us
to assign personhood to objects or entities that behave in some ways
like a person. I can't come up with a reference right now, but this
is akin to the "agency assumption" that seems to be a hardwired
feature of being human--we assume when we see an effect that someone
caused it. That's one explanation for the early
religions--somebody's got to be responsible for the weather.

Programmers are going to create entities that claim to be conscious.
Programmers are probably going to create entities that really are
conscious. I expect more of the first, at least at first.

I have to admit that in dissecting Jane as a Fortran program, I'm
falling into the homunculus problem. If you dissect Eirikur, you
can't find the conscious entity or seat of feelings, either--and what
the heck were you doing poking around in my head anyway?

Anyway, even if you think the state of honesty in the world is at a
low ebb as I do, I'd prepare for a whole new class of liars.


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