Face to face

I have been haunted recently by a detail in Isaac Asimov’s Foundation trilogy, which I first read when I was a kid. In the book, there is a technology that lets a widow or widower to talk with an animated photo of their deceased spouse.

When you talk to such a photo, some sort of artificial intelligence animates it and gets it talking back to you in the general manner of your now expired husband or wife. You are only experiencing an illusion that the person you loved is still with you, but presumably it is a comforting illusion.

Asimov includes one scene in which two such photos, one of a man and the other of a woman, two total strangers, are randomly placed face to face in a forgotten warehouse. For many years they continue to engage mindlessly in meaningless conversation with one another, until at long last their energy sources run out.

This prescient scene may be a metaphor for where we are heading with generative AI. Perhaps this is the way the world ends — not with a bang, but with meaningless chatter.

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