Episode 40 – “A Thing About Machines”

B. Finchley drives an elegant car and lives in an elegant house. He’s clearly rich. But his first interaction is with the TV repairman, who he thinks is ripping him off. ¬†The repairman accuses Finchley of mistreating his electronics, kicking his foot through the TV, etc. The repairman asks: “What is it with you and machines?”

Borrowing a question from Alan Turing, we can ask: What are the machines with which Finchley is s concerned? They are a varied lot, with varied behavioral repertoires. Some, such as the typewriter and the TV, have linguistic output. But none are digital computers.  Finchley is outraged at the cost of repairing the TV. But Finchley is enormously wealthy. Even the cabinet in which the TV lives is ornate beyond belief. Finchley is also no spendthrift. He clearly lives well in someplace not unlike Beverly Hills.

Finchley thinks his machines are out to get him. The clock strikes the hour and won’t stop. Finchely smashes it to smithereens. So far the machines are no match for Finchley. They have no agency, and can just suffer the effects of his wrath. But Finchley thinks they do have agency. The typewriter, the TV, and other appliances command “Get out of here, Finchley!”

Finchley is insane, and his insanity is fueled by consuming a lot of alcohol. Forced out of the house by his electric razor (no kidding!), he is confronted by his angry car. The end is not pretty.

There’s a point here and a counterpoint. The point is that attributing beliefs, desires, goals and plans to machines, is something only an insane person would do. The counterpoint is that we get to see the behavior of the machines, real or imagined, from Finchley’s perspective, and from that perspective, we see behaviors, that could easily be interpreted as guided by intention and purpose.

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