Granted the field of Artificial Intelligence was only formally established in the 1950’s, but it is certainly obvious that man’s fascination with robots and the concept of synthetic life forms certainly predates the Halcyon era of the Eisenhower age.
For example: Mary Wollstonecraft Shelly had already written Frankenstein way back in 1831 (at the impressive age of 19), and Leonardo DaVinci had completed his ingenious plans for a working robot as early as 1495.
And at some point over the roughly 550 years between DaVinci’s automatonic-tinkerings, and the first utterance of the phrase “AI,” it wouldn’t be hard to assume that someone, somewhere might have asked: “What if we ever make a robot so real, we couldn’t distinguish it from one of us?”
Now with all the advancements in robotics we’ve been tracking here at the MuSuNaHi over the last few weeks, that query seems more prescient than ever.
Which brings us to the ominous sounding “Turing Test.”
Devised by British researcher and Ratio Club member Alan Turing, the test was specifically conceived to determine a machine’s ability to approximate human intelligence and behavior.
Turing based his eponymous test on a cocktail party game popular at the time called (appropriately enough, as we shall see for a variety of reasons) “The Imitation Game.”
The gist of this diversion was to see whether the participants - one male and one female sent off into different rooms - could fool the other guests into not being able to determine their respective sexual identities. This was achieved by having the two answer a series of identical questions using a typewriter. Their answers were pounded out onto paper and then passed under a door separating them from the rest of the revelers.
In formulating his test, it could be imagined that Turing was thinking ahead (as visionaries such as himself are wont to do) to a time when a parlor trick that could easily determine whether your dinner companion was mass-produced or not, might come in handy... as opposed to say, something as complicated and cumbersome as the Voight-Kampf Machine; a fictitious device fabricated for the sole purpose of outing errant “Replicants” in Philip K. Dick’s sci-fi classic “Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep” (which would later famously be adapted into the film “Blade Runner”).
Of course, here’s where things get exponentially interesting:
The inclination on Turing’s part to devise such a test is even more fascinating when one factors in that the esteemed robotics expert happened to be a homosexual - at a time when homosexuality was narrow-mindedly deemed illegal, and nit-wittingly considered to be a mental illness.
Vis-a-vis the Ike’s Halcyon days.
In retrospect, we can’t help but wonder if Turing - who clearly had to approximate heterosexual behavior - would have felt a conscious and/or subconscious sympathy for the archetypal androids of later-day science-fiction, who almost always find themselves forced to have to “pass for normal,” or be prepared to face the often dreaded consequences as a result of being outed...
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NB: Right on cue, our chums over at Wired Magazine have just published an interesting article that poses the inevitable question: “Do Humanlike Machines Deserve Human Rights?”