Talons Philosophy

An Open Online Highschool Philosophy Course


Westworld and the Intersection of Memory and Self- Emma F.

Recently I have become a bit enthralled in Westworld. A revitalization of the 1973 film, the new TV series has recently boomed in popularity, and I have hopped on the bandwagon. However, with two episodes  behind me, I’ve also been drawn to the inherent metaphysical aspects of the show.

The show is set in a not-too-far future where the rich can take a vacation to the acclaimed Westworld, a theme park set in the American Wild West. The park is a place for people to enjoy an authentic, historical heyday complete with guns, cowboys, and saloons galore. However, the rich ‘guests’ are not the only inhabitants of the park. They are joined by charge of ‘hosts’, artificially manufactured androids that seem indistinguishable from the guests themselves. As the guests go about their own pleasures, the hosts are programmed to follow specific narratives to shape and add depth to the world.

However, Westworld wouldn’t be a show about AI unless these robots eventually malfunction.

The show itself is split between the happenings within the park and, in the background, scientists and robotics engineers toiling over AI updates and narrative construction. Although there are many areas of philosophy to delve into here, I want to focus on memory. In the show, a specific host named Maude is a prostitute who begins to turn away customers after she deviates from her regular speech patterns. The scientists observe her slipping away into a dreamy state, recalling what seems to be ‘memories’ from a previous role in Westworld. Although any previous data should have been wiped from her programming, these recollections manifest in her waking a dreaming ‘mind’.

And this convoluted train of thought brings me to my main question. Does memory constitute a ‘self’? Or more specifically, is it a necessary component to the self? I intend on using Maude’s own narrative within Westworld as a tool to further explore these questions. I am curious to explore how we might describe Maude’s state of self before and after these she had experienced these memories, and how these two states differ from one another.

  1. First, some things to answer before tackling the big Q. It’s widely agreed that non-human things can be intelligent. It is in the name AI itself. But what is the intersection of intelligence and self? If intelligence is the capabilities of the machine (ability to apply logic, respond to stimuli), where is the self stored? Is it a by-product of intelligence, or of experience? If two identical AI humanoids were produced, is it possible that they could have unique selves based upon experience and memory?
  2.  Is memory the conscious recollection of past experience, or can it exist within oneself without being ‘accessed’? For Maude, did she have ‘memory’ of her past life before she consciously realized it?
  3. Is the self present from birth, or the activation of an AI, if at all? Can the self adapt or is it constant?

These are the  categories of questions that I’ve been considering recently. One of the large philosophical ideas that has come into play is the bundle theory of self (theorized by David Hume), which explains the self as a non-uniform bundle of experience and thoughts, not all of them our own. As I continue to explore the relationship between memory and self, I think this theory will be a valuable tool to project my ideas upon. Specifically, it could be said that Maude possesses a sort of bundle of experience, and that her thoughts about that experience that may go farther than her initial programming. What does that mean for her development of ‘self’? Using Hume’s theory of a guideline of one kind of ‘self’, I hope to answer this question.

To be able to interact with the the topic of AI from a somewhat knowledgeable standpoint, I have just been looking through some sources that explain the history of AI and where it is today. Specifically, the Turing test and machine learning. Check it out if you are interested.

For now, I am interested in continuing discussion with my peers who are also studying AI, and gaining insight on their point of view. And of course, looking forward to a Westworld marathon.


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