Friday, June 22, 2012

Will This Be On The Turing Test??

I first posted this almost three years ago (August '09). I am reposting it now.

According to the online Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy:
The phrase “The Turing Test” is most properly used to refer to a proposal made by Turing (1950) as a way of dealing with the question whether machines can think. According to Turing, the question whether machines can think is itself “too meaningless” to deserve discussion. However, if we consider the more precise—and somehow related—question whether a digital computer can do well in a certain kind of game that Turing describes (“The Imitation Game”), then—at least in Turing's eyes—we do have a question that admits of precise discussion. Moreover, as we shall see, Turing himself thought that it would not be too long before we did have digital computers that could “do well” in the Imitation Game.

The phrase “The Turing Test” is sometimes used more generally to refer to some kinds of behavioural tests for the presence of mind, or thought, or intelligence in putatively minded entities.
Alan Turing first proposed this idea in 1950, but nearly 400 years earlier Rene Descartes had written in his Discourses:
If there were machines which bore a resemblance to our bodies and imitated our actions as closely as possible for all practical purposes, we should still have two very certain means of recognizing that they were not real men. The first is that they could never use words, or put together signs, as we do in order to declare our thoughts to others. For we can certainly conceive of a machine so constructed that it utters words, and even utters words that correspond to bodily actions causing a change in its organs. … But it is not conceivable that such a machine should produce different arrangements of words so as to give an appropriately meaningful answer to whatever is said in its presence, as the dullest of men can do. Secondly, even though some machines might do some things as well as we do them, or perhaps even better, they would inevitably fail in others, which would reveal that they are acting not from understanding, but only from the disposition of their organs. For whereas reason is a universal instrument, which can be used in all kinds of situations, these organs need some particular action; hence it is for all practical purposes impossible for a machine to have enough different organs to make it act in all the contingencies of life in the way in which our reason makes us act.
If you are still a little fuzzy about exactly what a Turing test is, here is a definition from the Dictionary of Cognitive Science:
The Turing test is a behavioural approach to determining whether or not a system is intelligent. It was originally proposed by mathematician Alan Turing, one of the founding figures in computing. Turing argued in a 1950 paper that conversation was the key to judging intelligence. In the Turing test, a judge has conversations (via teletype) with two systems, one human, the other a machine. The conversations can be about anything, and proceed for a set period of time (e.g., an hour). If, at the end of this time, the judge cannot distinguish the machine from the human on the basis of the conversation, then Turing argued that we would have to say that the machine was intelligent.
But how many of us could pass a "Turing test"? To do so one would have to show that one's actions are not pre-programmed, but that they are appropriate and responsive to one's environment -- in other words, that one is acting in a way that is simultaneously rational and spontaneous. The real issue is whether or not there is someone there -- someone who is choosing deliberately to act in this way. As opposed, that is, to just a machine following instructions given to it by a human being.

To reason means to apply one's capacity for reasoning to situations in which there is no previously agreed upon "right" answer. This, it turns out, is Stoic philosophy 101 - it is the central theme of the opening chapter of Epictetus' Discourses, which in translation is usually given the title "Of the things which are in our power, and not in our power", or something similar. The point being that the only thing that is truly "in our power" is precisely our ability to apply our reasoning and make choices.

There is nothing "robotic" about Epictetus' conception of reasoning. The volitional character of reasoning arises from the fact that it is the only faculty of the mind "which contemplates both itself and all other things." Furthermore, this "rational faculty" is "the only faculty that we have received which examines itself, what it is, and what power it has." The rational faculty, in fact, is the only means we have for making any kind of assessment or choice about anything: "for what else is there which tells us that golden things are beautiful, for they do not say so themselves?" The importance of this, in Epictetus' estimation, cannot be overstated:
That which is best of all and supreme over all is the only thing which the Gods have placed in our power.
What got me thinking about this was a very interesting post over at Prometheus Unbound, which includes a beautiful video by Marina and the Diamonds called simply I am not a Robot (also, here's a UK Guardian article on the band from Sept. '08):
You’ve been acting awful tough lately
Smoking a lot of cigarettes lately
But inside, you’re just a little baby
It’s okay to say you’ve got a weak spot
You don’t always have to be on top
Better to be hated than love, love, loved for what you’re not

You’re vulnerable, you’re vulnerable
You are not a robot
You’re loveable, so loveable
But you’re just troubled

Guess what? I’m not a robot, a robot
Guess what? I’m not a robot, a robot

You’ve been hanging with the unloved kids
Who you never really liked and you never trusted
But you are so magnetic, you pick up all the pins
Never committing to anything
You don’t pick up the phone when it ring, ring, rings
Don’t be so pathetic, just open up and sing

I’m vulnerable, I’m vulnerable
I am not a robot
You’re loveable, so loveable
But you’re just troubled

Guess what? I’m not a robot, a robot
Guess what? I’m not a robot, a robot

Can you teach me how to feel real?
Can you turn my power on?
Well, let the drum beat drop

Guess what? I’m not a robot
Guess what? I’m not a robot

Guess what? I’m not a robot, a robot
Guess what? I’m not a robot, a robot
Guess what? I’m not a robot, a robot
Guess what? I’m not a robot, a robot