week 8: language, chatbots, memory

I found Robin Wooffitt’s “The Language of Mediums and Psychics: The Social Organization of Everyday Miracles” interesting only in contrast with American Artists’ “Failure and Markup Language: Remembering Sandra Bland” and Casey Newton’s Verge article “When Her Best Friend Died, She Used Artificial Intelligence to Keep Talking to Him”.

Wooffitt wrote an entire book that deconstructs the language of mediums and their participants through conversation analysis. The take-away from Chapter 3 was her finding of the “3-turn” pattern in which the psychic or medium interacts with the sitter. First, the psychic asks a question or makes a statement that seeks to engage the sitter by hinting at something they might know or understand about them. Second the sitter will either reply with a yes or no. Third the medium or psychic will confirm the spirit’s presensce by attributing the piece of information from the first statement to that of the spirit.

Something about the directness of conversation analytics also makes me think of is the directness of machine learning algorithms. Could or do the natural language processing technologies that American and Kuyda used in their “chat bots” follow the same three-turn pattern? The difference might be that with a medium/sitter experience it is the medium who is constantly directing and re-directing the conversation. In the chatbot/user experience it is the user that is attempting to direct/redirect the conversation.

I’m left thinking about how conversations with a spirit can be extremely therapeutic for someone who is greiving the loss of that person. I’m also obviously left wondering “what is a spirit”. Thinking about Douglas Hofstadter’s “I Am A Strange Loop” and his writing about “what is a soul”. Does a spirit need to be pre-existing or can it more simply be sustained by what someone has left behind (i.e. text messages)? Does it matter if it is a spirit or not? Maybe its not the spirit but a spirit that can be maintained by and through the ephemera of someone’s digital self.

Holding on to the Wittgenstein quote “The limits of my language are the limits of my world.”…