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The Turing Test: Understanding the Philosophy of Artificial Intelligence

The world revolves around technology. Lights, air conditioning, phones, televisions, computers, cars; every-day life for most people is dependent on technology in some way. However, as science advances, this technology starts to become more self-automated.

The world revolves around technology: lights, air conditioning, phones, televisions, computers, cars; every day, most people are dependent on technology in some way. However, as science advances, this technology starts to become more self-automated. Programs like Siri and Alexa are showing that humanity is getting much closer to developing something that was thought to be just science-fiction: Artificial Intelligence (1).

Artificial Intelligence has been in the works for decades. Labs such as the MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) are constantly working towards furthering AI technology (2).  As more research goes into developing sophisticated AI’s, more AI programs are implemented into everyday life, and the need for more advanced AI’s comes in and the cycle repeats. There are many debates on Artificial Intelligence advancing to the point that it may do more harm than good, but what defines Artificial Intelligence?  This is where the Turing Test comes in.

Student Scientist 1
Image by Spencer Selover

The Turing Test was first proposed by Alan Turing in 1950 (3). Before the Turing Test, people defined Artificial Intelligence by the question, “Can machines think?” Alan Turing changed that question to not whether a machine can think or not, but whether a machine can imitate a human to the point that it is indistinguishable from a human. His definition of Artificial Intelligence was presented through the imitation game. In the imitation game, there are 3 players: A, B, and C.

Players A and B must go into a separate room and communicate with Player C through notes to try and convince Player C that they are who they say they are. Turing asks what would happen if a machine replaces one of the players. If the machine can pass as one of the players just as well as the actual players, then it has artificial intelligence.

This test is the basis for the philosophy of Artificial Intelligence. It is featured prominently in research with AI’s, and entertainment dealing with AI’s. For example, Ex Machina is a movie that shows the Turing Test being used, except that the main character knows that they are talking to an AI (4). Video games such as Detroit: Become Human also feature the Turing Test in defining Artificial Intelligence.

However, the Turing Test has both strengths and weaknesses. It cannot be denied that it proposes an interesting question on how to define Artificial Intelligence.

Though, it does lead to a new question: what happens when humans can no longer tell the difference between an AI program and a human?


(1) The exact definition of Artificial Intelligence varies among people. For this article, Artificial Intelligence is defined as any piece of technology that has the capability to do something that would usually require a human’s intelligence to do. This could be something as simple as a GPS, or a virtual assistant like Siri, or eventually androids that cannot be distinguished from humans.

(2)  “Research | MIT CSAIL.” MIT CSAIL, https://www.csail.mit.edu/

(3) Turing, A. M. Computing Machinery and Intelligence. Blackwell for the Mind Association, 1950.

(4) Garland, Alex, director. Ex Machina. Universal Studios, 2015.

 

 

 

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