Neural Chitchat

The Sherry Turkle Miracle (2021)


A constant theme in Sherry Turkle’s work is the idea that computers shape our social and psychological lives. This idea is of course in a sense trivial, as can be observed when walking down any city street and noting how many of the passers-by have their heads buried in screens. In The Second Self, however, Turkle makes a stronger claim to the effect that where people confront machines that seem to think this suggests a new way for us to think – about human thought, emotion, memory, and understanding and thereby affects the way we think and see ourselves as humans. I here attempt here to throw a sceptical light on claims of this sort by examining the Chinese chatbot “Xiǎoice”, which is described by its authors as “the most popular social chatbot in the world”.

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Barry Smith
State University of New York, Buffalo

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