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Your entire personality in 500 MB

Your entire personality in 500 MB

When art meets science

Who: Kurt Driessens, expert in artificial intelligence

What: TV series Caprica

Target group: students of Knowledge Engineering

Those who decide to watch the series Caprica after reading this article, should be forewarned. Pleasure will be short-lived; the series was cancelled after less than one full season. “Too few viewers, such a pity,” says Kurt Driessens. “As an artificial intelligence researcher, I always love to watch science fiction. It shows what we are still working on.”

Caprica is a prequel to the well-known SF series Battlestar Galactica (BG) and takes place sixty years before that. The robot-like Cylons – with whom humanity is at war in BG – still have to be developed. “The daughter of the CEO at the Cylon plant developed a computer programme that can be used to simulate a person in full, based on information found on the Internet. They need very little to do so, 500 MB of data is enough to copy a person’s character.”

Sounds like something of the future, but that need not be the case. “I was at a congress recently, where Rayid Ghani spoke. He was the Chief Scientist of Obama’s election campaign. During that campaign, his team collected information that people had put online about themselves, for example on Facebook. They analysed the data and using the results they tried to predict not only whether this person would vote and for whom, but also if they could be influenced to change their minds. Then they looked at the person’s friends: who could convince him to support our candidate? They approached that person. It is not quite a whole personality, but it is possible to predict degrees of someone’s behaviour because of information on the Internet.”

What Driessens is saying is: be careful what you put onto the World Wide Web. “There is a disadvantage to everything. For example, digital patient files are of course very handy for doctors: they have all the patient’s information at their fingertips. But such information must also be protected carefully.”

According to Driessens, these kinds of developments always involve moral issues. “In Caprica the moral struggle is portrayed well. The girl who developed the computer programme makes a simulation of herself. After her death, her father discovers the simulation. When the simulation breaks down, he is just as heartbroken as he was when his daughter had just died. It gets you thinking: how far do we want to go?”

In this column lecturers recommend art that throws a different light on their field than textbooks do

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