How desirable is that in this age of incipient artificial intelligence?
There’s a well-known song from Rodgers and Hammerstein’s musical “The King and I” with the lyric
“Getting to know you,
Getting to know all about you.
Getting to like you,
Getting to hope you like me …”
which expresses the joy of falling in love — learning to know, and be known by, another person in many intimate sensual and cognitive ways.
Most of us long to be “known” by friends, admirers, and lovers, but if we are social at all, we also become known by others who may not be friendly — who may not like what they know about us, or who may try to use what they know about us to their own benefit more than to ours.
And some of us may have things that we don’t want anyone to know, whether out of embarrassment, shame, or deviousness. We all value the privacy of some of our thoughts.
Sometimes we get to know people in asymmetrical ways. We see and hear public figures whom we come to like or dislike, and we admire some who seem to think the way we do. They may say things that we agree with and may say them even better than we could ourselves.
We may come to think of them as friends, not mutually but potentially so. And sometimes we discover later that they were being deceptive, telling us things that they think we want to hear, not necessarily things that they themselves believe.
All of what I have just written people have known for centuries, but now we are encountering computer software that has capabilities to get to know us in many ways, as we use it. Some of it compiles facts about us, including our age, gender, address, income, and many other such things.
Other software tracks what we read and watch on our screens and what we write on our keyboards. It can then predict what else we might want to read or watch and what we are likely to write next as we compose an email or essay.
We may enjoy benefits from what software learns about us, but we can also be limited or even harmed by it, as it uses its knowledge of us, however superficial, to influence our behavior. Those benefits and dangers are likely to increase as software developers continue to develop more complex ways of learning about us.
If we thought that human relationships are difficult to manage, we are probably going to find that human-computer relationships will become even more problematic. At least with people, we can rely on our similarity with other people as social animals of the same species. In computer software we have encountered a developing species of aliens who may come to “know” more about us than we do about them.