Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Turing test - important questions

Turing test brings up many questions crucial to philosophy of mind. It was designed by a British logician Alan Turing and remains a challenge both to artificial intelligence creators and philosophers. Turing test, despite rumours, still has not been passed although more than half a century has passed since Alan Turing’s death. But what is in fact Turing test? The original aim of Turing test was to see if a machine could think. A machine in order to pass Turing test, would have to be able to engage in a conversation with a man and respond to his questions in a way which would resemble human responses so much that the man would not be able to reliably distinguish between a machine and a real human being.

Turing’s idea, while fascinating, is also a very controversial one. What does it mean to think? Is our brain just a very sophisticated machine which – with a sufficient scientific progress – could be recreated with wires instead of neurons? Many monists would argue so. Alan Turing replaced the original question “Can machines think?” with “Are there imaginable digital computers which would do well in the imitation game?”. Then we encounter another problem – could we, hypothetically, be not able to tell the difference between living organisms and machines?

Alan Mathison Turing
If Turing test were passed, this possibility would become a frightening reality. Obviously, nobody would confuse a computer with a man but if the machine which had successfully passed Turing test were redesigned as an android with all Homo sapiens physical traits, most of us would feel at the very least uncomfortable. Philosophers have been interested in artificial intelligence issue for centuries. According to René Descartes, no machine would ever be able to behave as a human:

But it [machine] never happens that it arranges its speech in various ways, in order to reply appropriately to everything that may be said in its presence, as even the lowest type of man can do.

Nowadays, as robots are not only able to engage in quite logical conversations and understand spoken word, many question Descartes’s point of view.

To dualists the problem of thinking machines is even more complex and is strongly related to the mind-body problem. Does thinking belong to a soul or to a body? How can one distinguish between imitated thinking and real, superior thinking which is characteristic for human beings? Undoubtedly, resemblance does not imply identity (consider false analogy fallacy). If two entities think, it does not mean that both are alive, especially if what we mean by thinking is the ability to analytically process gathered data. In this case, the simplest calculator is able to think! I believe that the issue is so controversial since many people tend to confuse thinking with feeling. Our thinking is influenced by our feelings (and our feelings may be influenced by our thinking as well). If you are sad, you think differently and react differently than when you are happy or angry. A machine will never be able to really feel – it may perfectly mimic human feelings by producing adequate words and behavioural patterns but it all would be just a part of programme implemented and designed by a living human being – a creator of the artificial intelligence – the man. Even if there will be one day a machine which will pass Turing test, it will be passed not because of this machine’s ability to feel anything whatsoever but rather because of the programmer’s ability to effectively teach the machine to mimic human reactions and feelings.

Do you remember philosophical zombies and mutants? This is a similar problem. You cannot access someone or something else’s mind to state how the entity thinks/feels or whether he thinks/feels at all – therefore one needs another way of approaching the world. What do you think of thinking machines? Is it possible to create such a sophisticated machine that would fool you into believing you talk to another person?

Will a machine one day pass Turing test?


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