Anscombe on “I” and AI

“Imagine a society in which everyone is labelled with two names. One appears on their backs and at the top of their chests, and these names, which their bearers cannot see, are various: ‘B’ to ‘Z’ let us say. The other, ‘A’, is stamped on the inside of their wrists, and is the same for everyone. In making reports on people’s actions everyone uses the names on their chests or backs if he can see these names or is used to seeing them. Everyone also learns to respond to utterance of the name on his own chest and back in the sort of way and circumstances in which we tend to respond to utterance of our names. Reports on one’s own actions, which one gives straight off from observation, are made using the name on the wrist. Such reports are made, not on the basis of observations alone, but also on that of inference and testimony and other information. B, for example, derives conclusions expressed by sentences with ‘A’ as subject, from other people’s statements using ‘B’ as subject…

Instead of these rather inhuman people, suppose machines that are equipped with scanning devices are marked with signs in the same way as the people in my story were marked with their names, and are programmed to translate what appears on the screens of their scanners into reports…

The first thing to note is that our description does not include self-consciousness on the part of the people who use the name ‘A’ as I have described it… B is conscious of, that is to say he observes, some of B’s activities, that is to say his own. He uses the name ‘A’, as does everyone else, to refer to himself…But when we speak of self-consciousness we don’t mean that. We mean something manifested by the use of ‘I’ as opposed to ‘A’.”

– G.E.M. Anscombe, 1974

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