Have you ever heard of apophenia? It means to communicate by using a series of seemingly unrelated ideas. Well, I have an acquaintance, even a friend, who makes lots of sense when I speak to him directly, but when he creates online conversations, he is totally apophenic. He trips from subject to subject so rapidly, there are few people who follow his online rants. In fact, there are few people who can follow his online rants. He does not construct a paragraph thoughtfully. For instance, while chatting with him about his pet peeve, “climate change”, he managed to change the subject seven times. He wandered off into subjects like the caffeine and cocaine contents of certain soda, the pay-off of American auto manufacturers by their government, and how many people work at NASA. Now, if you take all of these subjects one by one, you can see how they do relate to the original topic, though the relation is no doubt indirect. It may even be interesting to note here that one definition of the word apophenia is to read connective meaning into someone’s seemingly unrelated ideas. So, for me to understand my apophenic friend even better, I have to employ apophenia? It’s not easy.
Another acquaintance of mine, who, unfortunately, I can’t really say is a friend, has autism. For this man, I have to employ a great deal of patience. He does not understand figures of speech at all. He takes every word literally. If you tell him you sent smoke signals, he would look up in the sky for the smoke. If you tell him he ate crow, he would mentally review his last few meals. If you told him someone was pulling his leg, he would ask you why you can’t see the obvious truth—no one is even so much as holding his leg.
And this is where I think AI could shine. Really, really shine. If I had an Artificial Intelligence program to communicate with both of these men, then more clear sentences could be arranged, more clear thoughts could be passed around. Of course, we would have to input the specific case of each man. I would have to tell the AI that the first man uses apophenia. I would have to tell the AI that the second man has autism, and probably I would have to tell the AI what sort of autism. And of course the autism would have to be diagnosed to discover the specific kind. Then again, an AI could be trained to detect the subtle nuances of an autistic mind.
The great conclusion of all of this would be that we could all communicate with each other more effectively. I can just imagine how the AI would pare down the first man’s ideas like this: “And I believe in thegungadincocacolamachinepoisoncontroleradication fromouterspacetimecontinuumfactoreconomicsofahockeygamefistfight will cause climate stasis.” So that I would hear only: “I believe in climate stasis.”
And then with the second man, I would say, “He’s pulling your leg.” And he would hear, “He is not telling you the truth. He is instead fabricating a non-existent scenario for your entertainment and amusement, while simultaneously using you as part of the humor. You are now friends. The appropriate response is to laugh, make a fist, and punch him in the shoulder.”