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Related Topics
The Turing TestReview - The Turing Test
Verbal Behavior as the Hallmark of Intelligence
by Stuart Shieber (Editor)
MIT/Bradford, 2004
Review by Darren Abramson, M.Sc.
Dec 17th 2004 (Volume 8, Issue 51)

There are three sections to this book. The first, 'Precursors', includes antecedents to the Turing Test. As is well known, Descartes held the view that ultimately what distinguished humans from animals to an external observer is language use. By providing a selection from Discourse on Method and 'Letter to the Marquess of Newcastle', Shieber provides evidence that Descartes and Turing might have agreed on the sufficiency of passing the Turing test for establishing intelligence, or the presence of a soul. By having these readings next to one another, one notices very clearly where they might have differed. Descartes rationalism and Turing's empiricism provide the basis for their differing positions over whether any machine might pass the Turing Test. For example, Turing muses over the tabula rasa nature of newborn children, and suggest that this might guide engineering decisions for making learning machines. "Presumably the child-brain is something like a note-book as one buys it from the stationers. Rather little mechanism, and lots of blank sheets" says Turing (Turing, Shieber 90-91). Of course, Descartes holds that the engine of language use is the rational soul, not merely "…lodged in the human body like a helmsman in his ship, except perhaps to move its limbs, but that it must be more closely joined and united with the body… when we know how much the beasts differ from us, we understand much better the arguments which prove that our soul is of a nature entirely independent of the body…" (Descartes, Shieber 29). Curious in the Precursors section is the inclusion of a selection from de La Mettrie's Machine Man. While of interest to those concerned with animal cognition, say, it is only of relevance to the Turing Test construed as a necessary condition on intelligence. Shieber shows us he is aware that Turing only thought of his test as a sufficient condition. However, he, as do many authors in this text, seems to lapse into discussions of its necessity, which often distracts from more fruitful endeavors.

Shieber himself introduces many of the articles, and each of the three sections with commentary. The portion of his commentary I found most interesting and helpful is part of an introduction to a subsection, 'Ephemera', to the second main section of the volume, 'Turing's Test'. In a portion with the heading 'Sex and the Turing Test', Shieber reviews some of the published positions according to which the traditional notion of the Turing Test misunderstands Turing's intentions in his original Mind article. Famously, considers the gendered 'Imitation Game', and then ambiguously asks: 'what happens when a machine takes the place of the man' (to rephrase Turing, [Shieber 68])?  The imitation game involves an attempt by a judge to determine on the basis of written responses to queries which of two subjects is a man, and which is a woman. Shieber cites interpreters according to whom the 'machine imitation game' includes a judge who thinks that he or she must detect which responder is a woman and which is a man, but is in fact receiving responses from a woman and a machine. The orthodox view, which Shieber supports, is that Turing intended wider scope to the phrase 'takes the place of'. The resulting Turing Test is an attempt by a judge to decide which of two verbal respondents is a human and which is a machine, with the knowledge that there is exactly one of each. Shieber's commentary deftly applies Turing's included 'Ephemera', hitherto unpublished in book form, to convincingly argue that the gendered interpretation is a tortured misreading of an unfortunate ambiguity. He appeals to quotes of Turing's to make his point, such as this one.

I think it is probable for instance that at the end of the century it will be possible to programme a machine to answer questions in such a way that it will be extremely difficult to guess whether the answers are being given by a man or by the machine. I am imagining something like a viva-voce examination, but with the questions and answers all typewritten in order that we not consider such irrelevant matters as the faithfulness with which the human voice can be imitated. (Turing, Shieber 114)

This quote, taken from a BBC lecture the year following the publication of Turing's Mind article is powerful evidence against the gendered variant. There are alternatives one can pursue, however, other than arguing over precisely what Turing originally meant. For example, Shieber doesn't mention Sterrett's argument (2000) that even if Turing didn't mean for us to pursue the gendered variant of the imitation game, there is important value in considering it. Nevertheless, the editor does a service in providing a textually supported, concise argument for the view that Turing meant what we usually think he did in introducing what is now called the Turing Test.

The third section contains a wide selection of some of the most important reponses and counter-responses to Turing's Mind article. This volume contains a hitherto unpublished, four page article by Noam Chomsky on the significance and interest of the Turing Test. It is unclear whether this article was written well in advance of the edited volume, solicited by Shieber, or was written just for The Turing Test. In any case, the copyright for the article is 2002 while that of the book is 2004. On the one hand, Chomsky notes that in formulating what is now called the Turing Test, Turing had two goals:  "constructing better machines [and] gaining insight into human intelligence" (Chomsky, Shieber 317). He is quite critical of the Turing Test and whether trying to build computers that would pass it would help us pursue these two goals. Chomsky writes:

Questions about computational-representational properties of the brain are interesting and it seems important, and simulation might advance theoretical understanding. But success in the imitation game in itself tells us nothing about these matters. Perhaps, as Turing believed, the imitation game would provide a stimulus for pursuit of the two "useful lines of research" he advocated; he said little about why this research strategy is preferable to other ways to improve machine capacity and study human intelligence, and it does not seem obvious, apart from some cultural peculiarities that an outside observer might assess with a critical eye. (319)

Like the rest of Chomsky's article, this selection seems hastily written and is unclear. What exactly 'seems important' in the first sentence above? I assume Chomsky means something like 'It is important that we try to answer questions about computational-representational properties of the brain'. What 'does not seem obvious, apart from some cultural peculiarities…' mean in the last sentence? I can guess one of the following two things: the Turing Test might allow cultural peculiarities of instances of artificial intelligence to be critically assessed by observers who did not share those peculiarities; or, the idea that the Turing test might contribute to the second research goal is itself a cultural peculiarity that other scientists might not share. In my opinion, the remainder of Chomsky's article does not fare much better. However, future discussions of the Turing Test will no doubt enlist the conclusions reached therein.

It is easy to criticize an edited collection on any problem or issue in philosophy by pointing out selections which ought to be have included but weren't. To his credit, Shieber tells the reader that he is omitting important lines of discussion and offers directions for supplementing the book. However, even though he mentions the lengthy discussion of the 'Total Turing Test', he only cites one of Harnad's more recent articles on the matter. To get a broader picture of the lively contemporary debates about the Turing Test and important articles therein, I refer the reader to Saygin et al.'s recent article 'Turing Test: 50 Years Later' (2000) and the special issues of Minds and Machines 'The Turing Test: Past, Present, and Future' in which it appears. Shieber has selected what are some of the most influential and interesting articles, however. A strength of the selections is the degree to which subsequent authors, without doing so by name, take up lines of argument presented by the others. One thread that goes through many articles is the issue of algorithmic intelligence. Turing's radio broadcast with a few contemporary scientists (Chapter 7) and articles by Sampson, Purtill, Searle, Block and Dennett return again and again to the issue of whether implementing a mindless algorithm could possibly count as true intelligence, thus questioning the sufficiency of the Turing Test.

As for articles that were included but might have been better left out, there are few. Shieber introduces the early article by Leonard Pinsky 'Do Machines Think about Machines Thinking' by saying "It is hard to know what to make of this fairy tale, and probably not sensible to make too much of it. But as the first in the long history of Turing responses, it may serve to prevent our taking these issues too seriously" (Shieber, 141). In a nutshell, Pinsky's short article uses the Turing Test as a quick route to a reductio of the late Wittgensteinean position of therapeutic positivism. It is clear by reading the article that Pinsky has little interest in the Test itself, merely employing it to his own ends. Priority in the literature for mentioning the Turing Test doesn't seem to warrant inclusion in an otherwise well selected set of articles. On the other hand, Robert French's famous article on subcognitive performance in the Turing Test stands as somewhat of an island in the book, in the absence of other articles responding to its arguments and claims. Overall, the editing and presentation of the articles is superb, although the reader may be a little surprised to see that Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature is listed both in the bibliography of the book as a whole, and one following an article, as having been written by Amélie Rorty, rather than Richard.

 

References

Saygin, P.A., Cicekli, I, and Akman, V., 2000. Turing Test: 50 Years Later. Minds and Machines Vol. 10 No. 4 pp. 463-518.

Sterret, Susan G., 2000. Turing's Two Tests for Intelligence. Minds and Machines Vol. 10 No. 4 pp 541-559.

 

© 2004 Darren Abramson

 

Darren Abramson is a Ph.D. candidate in philosophy and cognitive science at Indiana University. He holds a MSc in computer science from Indiana, as well as a BA in philosophy from University of Toronto.


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Can't remember our URL? Access our reviews directly via 'metapsychology.net'


Metapsychology Online reviewers normally receive gratis review copies of the items they review.
Metapsychology Online receives a commission from Amazon.com for purchases through this site, which helps us send review copies to reviewers. Please support us by making your Amazon.com purchases through our Amazon links. We thank you for your support!


Join our e-mail list!: Metapsychology New Review Announcements: Sent out monthly, these announcements list our recent reviews. To subscribe, click here.

Interested in becoming a book reviewer for Metapsychology? Currently, we especially need thoughtful reviewers for books in fiction, self-help and popular psychology. To apply, write to our editor.

Metapsychology Online Reviews

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Metapsychology Online Reviews
ISSN 1931-5716