A Question Why the strange set-up of the Turing-Test? Why did Turing ‘pit’ a machine against a human in some kind of contest? Why not have the interrogator simply interact with a machine and judge whether or not the machine is intelligent based on those interactions?
The Super-Simplified Turing Test InterrogatorMachine
Obvious Answer: Bias The mere knowledge that we are dealing with a machine will bias our judgment as to whether that machine can think or not, as we may bring certain preconceptions about machines to the table. Moreover, knowing that we are dealing with a machine will most likely lead us to raise the bar for intelligence: it can’t write a sonnet? Ha, I knew it! By shielding the interrogator from the interrogated, such a bias and bar-raising is eliminated in the Turing-Test.
The Simplified Turing Test InterrogatorMachine or Human
Level the Playing Field Since we know we might be dealing with a machine, we still raise the bar for the entity on the other side being intelligent. Through his set-up of the test, Turing made sure that the bar for being intelligent wouldn’t be raised any higher for machines than we do for fellow humans.
Still … While having the ‘contest-like’ set-up may make sense from the standpoint of an imitation game played with untrained judges, as a scientific test, one would hope that any kind of trained researcher would be able to see past the fact that they are dealing with something that is not human and not have that interfere with any ascriptions of intelligence.
“Contrary Views” After Turing laid out the Turing Test in his original paper, Turing goes over a list of “Contrary Views on the Main Question”: Machines: – can’t make mistakes – can’t be creative – can’t learn – can’t do other than what they’re told – etc
A Puzzle That’s weird! – Many people regard Turing’s paper as proposing the Turing Test as some kind of practical test for machine intelligence. – But if that were so, you would think that Turing would address objections of the kind that maybe something can pass the test without being intelligent. Instead, it seems like Turing addresses objections to the claim that machines can pass the test. Why?
My Answer I propose that the convoluted set-up wasn’t merely a practical consideration to eliminate bias in some strange game, but rather to confront us with the very prejudices that, at Turing’s time, many people had against machine intelligence. Thus, the ‘Turing Test’ isn’t at all meant like a practical test to deal with our prejudices or biases regarding machine intelligence, but rather a thought experiment meant to merely point out these prejudices and biases, and encourage us to think more rationally about machines and machine intelligence. Indeed, the ‘Objections’ that Turing addresses aren’t so much objections to machines being able to pass the Turing Test, but rather objections that go straight to the issue of the possibility of machine intelligence.
Language Another way of looking at the Turing Test is that if we put a label ‘intelligent being’ on other human beings based on their behavior then, just to be fair, we should do the same for machines, whether we are correct or precise in any such attributions or not. In other words, Turing’s point was that we don’t have a precise definition of ‘intelligence’, and instead of trying to provide some kind of operational definition (as some commentators see it), Turing took this as a given, but whatever fuzzy or sloppy concept of ‘intelligence’ is, we should at least be consistent in our use of slapping this label onto things (humans or otherwise). Also, as our concepts and theories progress, our scientific investigations into intelligence will likely go far beyond having a conversation with a candidate intelligent entity, so at that point we will have other criteria to consider (but at this time, our judgments regarding intelligence of entities are still mainly based on interactions with those beings, so Turing can be excused to point to those interactions).
‘Imitation Game’ vs ‘Turing Test’ In other words, I think it is likely that Turing never intended to propose any kind of test for machine intelligence (let alone propose a definition!). – Interesting fact: In his original article Turing uses the word ‘pass’ or ‘passing’ 0 times, ‘test’ 4 times, and ‘game’ 37 times. It is therefore also likely that commentators who criticize the Turing Test as a test, or try to propose better tests (e.g. the Total Turing Test), are completely missing the point!
The Turing ‘Test’ as Harmful! Moreover, I believe that regarding Turing’s contribution as laying out a test is harmful. The harm is that we have been thinking about the goal of AI in these terms, and that has been, and still is, detrimental to the field of AI. E.g. In “Essentials of Artificial Intelligence”, Ginsberg defines AI as “the enterprise of constructing a physical symbol system that can reliably pass the Turing Test” But trying to pass the test encourages building cheap tricks to convince the interrogator, which is exactly what we have seen with Eliza, Parry, Cleverbot, Eugene Goostman, and pretty much any entry in the modern-day versions of the Turing Test. This kind of work has advanced the field of AI, and our understanding of intelligence … exactly zilch!
Grand Challenges OK, but maybe the Turing Test (and the Loebner competition) is a kind of Grand Challenge? – Landing people on moon – Chess (Deep Blue) – Urban Challenge – Jeopardy (Watson) But at this point in time, I feel that trying to create human-level intelligence in a computer is a ridiculously-grand challenge, and hence a bad Grand Challenge
How to Read Turing’s Paper So what did Turing himself really mean? Taken literally, this is an issue of history, not philosophy. And frankly, I am a philosopher, not a historian. To me, a better question to ask is: What, if anything, can we learn from Turing’s paper? Well, there are many interesting parts of the paper, especially in Turing’s responses to the ‘Contrary Views’. – E.g. his distinction between “errors of functioning” and “errors of conclusion” is an incredibly important distinction between operation and description that I believe too many AI researchers do not take seriously. But I believe the most important reading of his paper is to see the Turing ‘Test’ as a statement about the use of the word ‘intelligence’. That is, rather than an actual, practical, test, I believe we should look at the Turing Test as a thought experiment that forces us to examine our preconceptions (and prejudices!) regarding the concept of intelligence. In fact, I propose that we no longer refer to the Imitation Game as the Turing ‘Test’!!
Pluto and Planets Asking how many planets there are in our solar system seems to be a factual matter: – We believe there is a straightforward fact of the matter to this issue. If I say: “There are X planets in our solar system” then this statement is either true or false. – Thus: How many planets there are is an empirical issue: observations will tell us how many there are However, as the case of Pluto demonstrated, things aren’t that easy. Apparently the issue of how planets we have in our solar system isn’t just an empirical issue, but it is also one of interpretation. Maybe the same is true for machine intelligence! – Yes, we have to see how machines function and what machines are able to do … but once we know all about that, we still have to see if we want to interpret that as being ‘intelligent’.
Artificial Flight and Artificial Intelligence Imagine going back 100 years when the Wright Brothers had their first flight. We can imagine people say: “Well, but that’s not real flight. There is no flapping of the wings!” But over time, we realized that, from the standpoint of using concepts that help us think, explain, predict, and otherwise make sense of the world around us, it is a good idea to consider airplanes as really flying. Again, maybe the same is true for intelligence!
The original question, “Can machines think?”, I believe to be too meaningless to deserve discussion. Nevertheless I believe that at the end of the century the use of words and general educated opinion will have altered so much that one will be able to speak of machines thinking without expecting to be contradicted. -Alan Turing (1950)