The Turing Test

[Epistemic status: assume that I know absolutely nothing about computers.]

So I know that if a machine passes the Turing test, it means that it fools humans 50% of the time, right? At that point it emulates a human perfectly, and whether the interrogator chooses “correctly” is left to chance.

But imagine a machine that passes the test more than 50% of the time. Wouldn’t that be an interesting tool to realise and analyse inherent biases that humanity has about itself?

Maybe the machine will portray itself as having been shaped by childhood experiences more than most of us really are. Maybe the machine must exaggerate different traits in different cultures. Maybe we’ll realise that we’re all pretty boring when it comes down to it. The same way that characters in Serious Broody Literature™ are incredibly realised but my personality can pretty much be boiled down to “really, really likes naps”, maybe we’ll find that the archetype of the renaissance man or the “fully realized human” or whatever has only ever been an abstract ideal.

This is something that’s interesting to me, because humanity has always defined itself as being superior in all the ways that “count”, right? We’re the most intelligent species, the ones that are capable of abstract thought and symbolic language. We have that divine spark. It’s hard to find that upper bound on humanity when we are the definition of the upper bound, although one can argue that having something we made be the upper bound isn’t that much better.

And then, well, if we aren’t the best at being “human”, what then? How will we define ourselves, when programs can not only automate all our jobs, but can come up with more sublime poetry, more moving choreography, wittier social commentary? Will we let ourselves be defined by our sudden mediocrity?

Will we start put emphasis on the importance of that one thing that the system haven’t figured out perfectly yet? Imagine if, due to some inexplicable bug, the machine cannot answer convincingly the question “Why do you like the movie Mean Girls?” Imagine if, because of that, suddenly everyone is thinking Very Seriously about the movie Mean Girls and writing think-pieces about how the movie Mean Girls is the single most thorough interrogation about what being human entails.

Imagine if cults start up worshipping the holiness that is being able to be allergic to things, being able to get sick, having breakable skin and fragile bones and dying. A return to worshipping death would be kind of poetic.

And then the methods we’ll develop to get that percentage back down to 50% is also pretty fun to think about:

Interrogator: “So what do you do in your spare time?”

Player A: “I’m super into making origami models, because it’s soothing to me and I like making stuff with my hands, although making anything more substantial has always seemed daunting to me.”

Player B: “lol i smoke doobies and play overwatch”



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