July 13, 2011
Will Turing Machines Of Dead People Fill Up Web?

Christopher Mims says The Internet Is Filling Up with Dead People and There's Nothing We Can Do About It. Why this is coming up: One's GMail email history gets used by Google+ (which I had to join just to be a chic early adopter) to recommend putting into social circles. So suddenly a piece of software is recommending adding dead people and old lovers to circles.

Naturally this sent my mind on a tangent: When will algorithms for processing the text history of social media discussion forums become powerful enough to basically fake being you? Imagine years of your postings on Facebook or Google+ (G+) processed by some fancy algorithms that use all that material to try to act like a Turing machine and fool others into thinking they are really interacting with you.

I can see how to sort of wade into this in a way that is pretty cool. Suppose you write something on your G+ stream and friends comment. You could click some button to ask for assistance in writing a response. The server software could suggest jokes or bring up points you've previously made and it could even suggest recent news articles that have points you could use.

Take this even further and before you even write in your stream (or blog as the case might be) the tool could suggest topics to comment about. In a way this is what Google News is already doing when it suggests news items that match with your previous clicking history. But combine your posting history with your clicking history and it should be possible to suggest more appropriate articles to read and points to make to your social circles about them.

So the development of the Turing Machine could come gradually. At some point you could die (or just go on a sailing trip off the web) and the Turing Machine would carry on generating content like you were still there. So the internet would really fill up with content generated by dead people - or at least simulations of dead people.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2011 July 13 08:41 PM  Virtual Beings Relationships

PacRim Jim said at July 14, 2011 12:27 AM:

How about Turing machine spammers. Imagine, their bank accounts filling with money no human knows about, and accruing interest indefinitely.

f1b0nacc1 said at July 14, 2011 6:49 AM:

Take this a bit further, and you have Turing machines talking to other Turing machines in a sort of incestuous machine feedback loop. Long after some social media sites are abandoned by real people (MySpace anyone?), they may still be populated by their electronic ghosts conducting lively conversations with each other....

Bruce said at July 14, 2011 7:56 AM:

Dead people voted for Obama in record numbers. Why shouldn't they be allowed to have a social media presence?

Lono said at July 14, 2011 10:31 AM:


Yes - I could really see this happening - particularly with Google being involved here.

Does it bother you at all that Google Founder Eric Schmidt was in attendence at Bilderberg this year - a mere two weeks before Google+ was announced?


While it is clearly superior to Facebook it is likely to be even worse about privacy in the long run.

Also - no pic Randall - I am dissapoint.


sabril said at July 14, 2011 4:20 PM:

On some of the blogs I read, there are many posters who seem like they would be pretty easy to simulate.

Randall Parker said at July 14, 2011 7:06 PM:


I was thinking that we will be able to detect when Turing Machines take over comment writing from simpler minds when their posts become more interesting. I figure we'll need software that detects a rise in posting quality as a sign that a person has been replaced by a machine.


Me no pic on G+? I haven't gotten around to it.

Vince said at July 14, 2011 8:30 PM:

Randall, this was some pretty clever thinking. I'm annoyed I didn't think about it!

spindizzy said at July 15, 2011 10:53 AM:

Sorry to be pedantic, but a "Turing machine" does not mean a machine able to pass the Turing test.

It's an interesting idea though. It makes me wonder: as machines become able to simulate an increasing percentage of our behaviour, does that make the remaining percentage more or less valuable?

Joseph Hertzlinger said at July 17, 2011 10:46 AM:

Once we have enough dead voters, the Fringe Party should win in a landslide.

david foster said at July 17, 2011 11:52 AM:

There's an old SF story ("Dead End," by Wallace McFarlane) in which creatures called pseudo-life are created as consolation for the survivors of those who have died. Pseudo-life creatures look like the individual replaced and mimic their personalities; the only thing they cannot do is anything requiring genuine creativity.

Annoying Old Guy said at July 17, 2011 12:15 PM:

See Lady of Mazes by Karl Schroeder.

Some Guy said at July 17, 2011 1:45 PM:

You are conflating the idea of a Turing Machine with the Turing Test. Look them on Wikipedia.

Randall Parker said at July 17, 2011 1:45 PM:

Robert Arvanitis,

xkcd 810 is great. Yes, imagine a system that forces spammers to create software that generates higher quality comments.

Randall Parker said at July 17, 2011 1:49 PM:

Some Guy,

I was trying to come up with a pithy title. I'm aware of the meaning of the terms. But a machine that can pass the Turing Test will just be a Turing Machine with awesome software, huge memory storage, and computational thru-put high enough to do the job.

forrest said at July 18, 2011 9:01 AM:

But these Turing Machine effigies of the dead won't be able to post pictures of what they're having for breakfast (as noted by Future-Man) or other mundane real time experiences and that's how you'll be able to tell (unless they use stock images as part of their subterfuge, but that won't cover all the bases either...maybe CGI?)

Lovethefuture said at July 18, 2011 7:49 PM:

Why not take it even further and predict that we'll build robots in the likenesses of dead people and their Turing brains will mean that we can have an Einstein in every home, for any project!

Or, heck, just go one step further and predict that one day we'll bring back the dead. Sure why not? Using quixotic quantum machines that can harness matter with such pinpoint precision that it makes today's quantum computers look like Etch A Sketches. Why bother with robotic imitations when you can simply materialize Elvis out of the holographic ether and put him on tour again?

Lovethefuture said at July 21, 2011 3:48 AM:

Hi faruq. It is actually fairly simple in theory. Just like how a photograph is made of a series of pixels, reality is constructed of its own pinpoints. In this case infinitesimally small pinpoints of light that we call "quanta." The quantum world unfortunately is so small and so stormy that we don't know how to harness it yet in order to create objects to spec.

Much like how a television recreates a facimile of an environment using electrons fired upon a screen, conceivably you could create a facimile of a 3d object you can taste, touch and feel if you were able to influence the formation of quanta.

Unlike pixels in a picture or electrons on a TV screen quanta fluctuate between solid and ghostly states. These states are influenced by an observer. Nobody knows what an "observer" really is, however when an observer gains information on the direction of quanta, the quanta goes from being a wavelength to a particle. Or more plainly from transparent to solid. This observer can exist in the past or in the future.

Imagine for a second that we had the world's best holographic device. A TV presenter would step before the camera and his surface details would be replicated on a projector in an studio room miles away full of cheering game show fans. We all have seen this effect before in movies like the holograms found in Star Wars. But what if a scientist were to upgrade this camera so that it not only took pictures of the TV presenter's face and skin, but also his insides as well in a kind of 4th dimensional effect. This new camera is so precise it can capture in real time every organ and structure inside the presenter's body to the point where it can track the movement of ions between each one of his millions of cells. Now this is all fine and dandy as we are seemingly capturing irrelevant information for the projector found miles away for the studio audience. This light construct of the TV presenter is really just a highly complicated hologram. However, if you were to add more light density to our holographic TV host, over time as the imitation's brain begins to harden it would be able to start channeling observations of its own. Light would start to get "caught" inside our hologram's nervous system. Soon the hologram itself would become an observer in its own place and time. It would turn from a ghost into a solid mass. The TV presenter hologram would in all respects become its own living being. Just like a misbegotten transporter accident from Star Trek, the TV presenter's hologram would become his cloned brother exactly like him at the moment of creation down to his over-gelled hair.

Now what I just described was a simple example. We simply replicated what we had at hand and gave it some density, as amazing a feat as it is to our 21 century perspective it is merely molding matter into something familiar. But what if we wanted to reconstruct information that was once present but no longer available? Like a missing piece of audio recording? Or maybe a rusty old car? Or even a dead person back from the grave?

Well a dead person is, like everything else that is "lost", a disorganization of information into an unrecognizable symbol. A mound of snow can be used to create snowballs, snow cones, or snowmen. If your snowman were to be destroyed by the neighborhood bully, you could with some effort simply recreate your snowman with the snow at hand in exacting detail. Unfortunately for us the level of sophistication order to recreate a human being, or should I say a human symbol, is immense. We don't recognize an inert pile of carbon, water and minerals as a potential human being because, simply enough, we don't have the technology that can manipulate the raw ingredients into a human. So to us, at least right now, death is "final" with a capital F!

So the real question is how would we replicate a form of matter that is no longer before us? How would you bring George Washington back to life as your presidential running mate? Well one way is you could attempt to restore the object in question using informed bits of data, this is much like restoring a car based on old photographs. You could take bits and pieces of current data and extrapolate back. So you could take DNA from George Washington's wooden teeth to reconstruct his body, samples of his writing to reflect his personality and so on. However I believe this would be the primitive, costly and unremarkable way of bringing someone back. Most people, when imagining bringing someone from the dead, assume that the "real" George Washington would only be the one that had the full memory and personality from his time.

Well in order to do this one must imagine how quanta work. If you had a machine that could replicate our universe in full detail, you could conceivably create a brand new timeline, an "elseworld" if you will and pluck characters from this new universe willy nilly for your own enjoyment. But honestly I'm not sure how easily you would be able to make a copy of our universe and have it form to spec, you would need all the energy found in our current universe! Quanta, fortunately, offers us a loophole to this pernicious problem. Quanta can be affected by an observer in both the future and the past. So there are moments in time across all of human history that are conceivably connected by events 1000 years apart. Even right now there are quantum events that connect you to George Washington circa 1776. Think of these as wormholes, not across space, but across time. This temporal fabric seems illogical to our forward thinking brains, but it seems that future/past bindings are how reality actually works. Now if we were able to provide more "energy" to a handful of these threads that connect our present time and George Washington circa 1776, with say a computer that replicates the weak signals, and then say broadcasts them onto a screen we could in all instances create a fragile looking glass into the past event. Then from there we could access the once elusive "threads" of the past that affected the future. We would be able to peek into the past! Once there we could, using our super advanced camera, take a snapshot of George Washington circa 1776 and project his clone in our time, with all of his thoughts, feelings and reflections up until that point. Hence our future society has brought the dead back to life!

Andrew Hickey said at July 21, 2011 3:57 AM:

I wrote a story on this subject a year ago - http://andrewhickey.info/2010/07/27/the-singularity/

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