The Chinese Room
A British police officer was acquitted of dereliction of duty despite admitting he spent 20 minutes in his office having sex with a woman he met on an Internet dating site. "But he claimed that he was always poised and ready to respond to an emergency because he had his [communications] earpiece in."
British Transport Police Inspector Masood Khan, 41, was charged with misconduct in a public office after a 20-minute tryst in a police office with a woman he had met on an Internet dating site.
The officer, who signed up for the website using the name Michael K Plod, told jurors: "It was an absolutely wrong thing to do, morally and professionally, and I shouldn't have done that." ...
"If there was a call for me I would have answered it and dealt with it,' he said. It took the jury at Southwark Crown Court only ten minutes to clear him but Khan still faces a disciplinary hearing. The ultimate penalty is the sack.
But the incident does bring up the legitimate question of just when, in this communications age, a person is "present". For many people today the realistic definition of presence means the attendance of a communications device. In my own personal case being "at work" really means having my computer turned on and connected to the network. The location of computer itself and whether or not it may be moving seems to be of not interest to individuals who are concerned with whether they get a response from my workstation with whatever they want. One of my workstations is in fact designed to be completely mobile and works even while on the open road or walking through a field so one could argue its design implies an acceptance of the irrelevance of location. As long as my workstation can be found on the network and responds with work, I'm at work.
Early researchers in the field of artificial intelligence a constructed a scenario called the "Chinese Room" in which a human Chinese speaker passed little slips of paper into a locked room and carried on a conversation in Chinese with whatever was within. If there was no way to discover from the outside whether or not the mysterious interlocutor was a real Chinese, a computer program or someone who, though totally lacking any knowledge of the language, but using a sophisticated set of rules and dictionaries, carried on the exchange, there was no way to validly decide which of the three was inside. One was as good as the other.
As universal connectivity becomes a reality that odds that we will be attending our communications devices, in some form, will be very high. DirecTV's deal with Internet broadband provider Current to offer broadband over power lines in the Dallas/Fort Worth area means it will soon be possible to connect at 3 Mbps simply by plugging into an electric socket. Gizmodo Australia comments and provides a diagram of how the concept works. It's one more step toward making everyone connected, all time. How long, I wonder, when the next challenge becomes not how to get connected but to switch off.