Technology and Knowledge: The Siri Entity

Many who know me know I am paranoid about the development of digital technology. While beneficial in some aspects, many are ignorant about the disadvantages to human society in the age of technology. The invention of the Apple iPhone’s Siri device has spawned a new manner of the discussion of knowledge. If an individual were to ask Siri a question, the user mentions something of how Siri knows the answer. Yet, what is this knowledge the device has? Is it more knowledgeable than the human? Let us examine each question individually.

What knowledge does Siri have?

Siri knows. If I ask the device how many pizza shoppes are available in a two mile radius of my house, a series of results appears almost instantly. I use the term “series of results” purposely as it proposes something similar to information. Are information and knowledge synonymous? While connected, the answer is harsh no. Philosophically, knowledge is associated with a propositional attitude. By proposition, I mean a statement which asserts or expresses a judgment in relation to some thing. For example, consider the claim, “I believe in the Trinitarian God.”   This statement posits not only a judgment, but a belief. Contra knowledge, information can be trivial facts, statistics, or tidbits. If one were to ask Siri how to make a pizza, it may provide information of the procedure, the ingredients, etc., but it is unable to possess knowledge of the experience. It cannot posit an opinion on its tastefulness and aroma. While the user takes this information provided by the device that can lead to knowledge, the device provides information distinct from knowledge.

Is Siri more knowledgeable than a human?

From the response to the first question, the answer to the current should be a resounding ‘no.’ Whereas I made a distinction between information and knowledge, let it be granted, for the sake of argument, that the Siri device can possess knowledge. Is it more knowledgeable than humans? No. But the issue lies deeper than this simplicity. Individuals possess what in the philosophical realm is called qualia. Qualia denotes a specific instance of a subjective conscious mind. It is experiential. More to the point, it is a direct experience. For example, to smell an apple pie, to burn one’s finger on the stove, and to see the color red all qualify under qualia. Phenomenal experiences such as these require a subjective experience. Whereas Siri may provide thorough information on the makings of a perfect apple pie, it can never, nor will it ever, experience the scent of an apple pie. This may sound obvious, and perhaps silly, to explicate. However, the point is required to demonstrate the distinction between a conscious and nonconscious entity.

In jest (with a certain degree of seriousness for the sake of research), I asked a friend’s Siri device if it would one day kill me. While undoubtedly a programmed response, Siri answered “I suppose it is possible.” While humorous, it does lead to another problematic notion with the proposition, “Siri knows.” Siri is programmed with information. It does not acquire knowledge through some learned experience. Rather, a seemingly infinite amount of information is embedded within the device’s technological makeup. The device has no choice but to deliver the information requested by the individual. The sole duty is performed.

The speed in which Siri articulates information can be next to instantaneous. It can indeed provide information needed for a certain experience. Yet, without the nature of a conscious mind, its abilities are limited, its function stunted, and the reliance on it overused. The technological age will continue to advance. I am no Luddite. While I do not own a “smart” phone, I do not reject all digital technology. It can have value. But with value also comes detriments. The smart phone craze has dawned a time where people have conversations with unconscious entities, rely on technology for quick information in place of thorough knowledge, and added a constant distraction to normal human interaction. Remember the limits of this type of technology. Too many smart people become intellectually lazy with the mind-voided entity in their palm.

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