What does the Turing test really mean?

That is a new paper of mine, co-authored with Michelle Dawson.  There is much more to Turing’s classic essay than meets the eye.  The famous “test” is not a standard for distinguishing human from machine intelligence but rather one step in an argument showing that such a distinction is not as important as we might think.  Turing cleverly shows why the supposed test is misleading and the real question is how to educate both children and machines, not how to distinguish them.  The summary statement of our paper is as follows:

…a potent and indeed subversive perspective in the paper has been underemphasized. Some of the message of Turing’s paper is encouraging us to take a broader perspective on intelligence and some of his points are ethical in nature. Turing’s paper is about the possibility of unusual forms of intelligence, our inability to recognize those intelligences, and the limitations of indistinguishability as a standard for defining intelligence. “Inability to imitate does not rule out intelligence” is an alternative way of reading many parts of his argument. Turing was issuing the warning that we should not dismiss or persecute entities which we cannot easily categorize or understand.

If you read Turing’s essay closely, you will find many underrated passages of interest, especially when read in light of his homosexuality (and also possible autism).  Here is the closing bit from our paper:

It is possible that Turing conceived of his imitation test precisely because he had so much difficulty “passing” and communicating himself. In social settings these facts were seen as disabilities but in the longer term they helped Turing produce this brilliant essay.

One brute fact is that a lot of human beings could not, themselves, pass a Turing test.  Could you?

Addendum: Here is my previous post, Toward a Theory of Raivo Pommer-Eesti.


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