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02mydafsoup-01

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So then imagine Alan Turingstein, mathematics genius, computer pioneer, and Nazi code expert. After the war, he messes around in the German electronics industry in some inconclusive way, and then he commits suicide in some obscure morals scandal. What would we think of Alan Turingstein today, on his centenary? I doubt we’d be celebrating him, and secretly telling ourselves that we’re just like him.

On the contrary, we’d consider him a sinister figure, somebody to be whispered about. He’d be a spooky, creepy villain, a weird eccentric with ragged fingernails and pants held up with twine. He would show up in World War II historical novels as a scary fringe character. As for the famous Turingstein Test, which I’m about to discuss at length, we wouldn’t see that as a fun metaphysical thought experiment. Those interesting ideas would also bear the taint of Nazi culture, and we’d probably consider the Turing Test some kind of torture chamber for intelligent machines.

Now, Turing had the good luck not to be born German, but he also had the bad luck of being a consistently eccentric, shadowy, obscure, cooped-up and closeted guy. Furthermore, I believe our world has many such people right now — few so brilliant as him, but many as isolated as him. Rather than apologizing to Alan Turing after his death, I’d be happier if we had some working way to reach out to other Alan Turings, ways to find people like him and to convince them to put down the poisoned apple and find good, sensible reasons to cheer the hell up and enjoy life.

We have no way to know which Alan Turings among us will leave a grand legacy like his: technological advance, the Allied victory and the persistence so far of liberty, racial tolerance and democratic capitalism. We do have plenty of geeks who are just as obsessive and hung-up on weird hacks as he was. While we’re somewhat more inclined to valorize them, I don’t think we meet their needs very well.

We’re okay with certain people who “think different” to the extent of buying Apple iPads. We’re rather hostile toward people who “think so very differently” that their work will make no sense for thirty years — if ever. We’ll test them, and see if we can find some way to get them to generate wealth for us, but we’re not considerate of them as unusual, troubled entities wandering sideways through a world they never made.

So, let me talk a little bit about Turing’s famous test for intelligence, the “imitation game.” Everybody thinks they know what that is: it’s a man talking to a computer, and the computer is trying to convince him that he’s not a machine, he’s a man. If he talks like a man and knows what a man knows, if he presents as a man, then we don’t have to get into the dark metaphysical issues of what’s going on in his black-box heart and spirit; the machine keeps up the façade, so therefore he’s one of us, he’s perfectly fine. That’s the Turing Test as it’s commonly described.

However, that’s by no means what Turing actually says in his original paper on the subject. The real Turing imitation game is not about that process at all. It’s about an entirely different process of gender politics and transvestism. It’s about a machine imitating a woman.

In the original Turing imitation game, you’ve got three entities: a judge, a woman, and a machine pretending to be a woman. Alan Turing says he can’t answer the question “can machines think” because he doesn’t want to waste time with the popular definitions of “machinery” and “thinking.” He wants a simpler, more rigorous test that’s more objective and reliable. So what he actually comes up with is a test for a machine with a woman’s sensibility.

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Turing Centenary Speech | www.wired.com via radar.oreilly.com 2012-06-27

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