By Lauren Kunze – Thinking about the Turing Test
In 1950, five years before computer scientist John McCarthy would coin the term “artificial intelligence,” mathematician Alan Turing famously posited: Can machines think?
To answer, Turing devised a simple test. Known as the “Imitation Game,” the machine passes as “intelligent” if, during a text-based chat, it can fool us that it’s human. Since then, his eponymous Turing Test has inspired countless competitions, fierce philosophical debates, media frenzies, and epic sci-fi plots from Westworld to Ex Machina to Her—not to mention copious criticism from academia.
But Turing Test detractors who believe that “winning” the Imitation Game has “little practical significance for artificial intelligence” are missing the finer point contained in Turing’s premise:
That the fundamental defining feature of human intelligence is language.
Turing and Aristotle were bedfellows in this regard. As observed in the Greek philosopher’s tome The Politics, “Man alone of the animals possesses speech.” Words, in other words, are key to what makes us special—and our intellect unique—relative to other species.
… and to software.