Sunday, October 05, 2008

The Turing Test Revisited

No machine has yet passed the test devised by Turing, who helped to crack German military codes during the Second World War. But at 9am next Sunday, six computer programs - 'artificial conversational entities' - will answer questions posed by human volunteers at the University of Reading in a bid to become the first recognised 'thinking' machine. If any program succeeds, it is likely to be hailed as the most significant breakthrough in artificial intelligence since the IBM supercomputer Deep Blue beat world chess champion Garry Kasparov in 1997. It could also raise profound questions about whether a computer has the potential to be 'conscious' - and if humans should have the 'right' to switch it off.
...The test will be carried out by human 'interrogators', each sitting at a computer with a split screen: one half will be operated by an unseen human, the other by a program. The interrogators will then begin separate, simultaneous text-based conversations with both of them on any subjects they choose. After five minutes they will be asked to judge which is which. If they get it wrong, or are not sure, the program will have fooled them. According to Warwick, a program needs only to make 30 per cent or more of the interrogators unsure of its identity to be deemed as having passed the test, based on Turing's own criteria.

Three items catch my attention in these passages:
Right to switch it off

Although we know a great deal about the first two, I think it is safe to say that we don't know enough about them in order to attribute them to a machine, even when we are fooled by this machine. Thinking and consciousness are things we feel and attribute to other human beings on the basis of their similarity with us, despite the fact that in most communications between human beings we can be fooled about whether the other person thinks or behaves in a conscious way like us. Indeed, thinking and consciousness have so many layers that even communication between humans is sometimes impossible or deceptive.

As for the third item we touch here on the ethics of human machine interaction. Every right for ourselves is accompanied by a duty toward someone else. Morally speaking, a duty emerges when at least two individuated persons, two individuals, or creatures, interact in an asymetrical way in which one is responsible for the other who is vulnerable. Because a computer program still depends on our will to switch it, it is we who are responsible for the computer program. However, we might ask ourselves such questions as; Is an intelligent computer program an individual, a singularity in the world ? Is it vulnerable ? Do we feel indignation when it is not respected or when it does not have the same rights as us ? Do we have duties and rights when it comes to machines as towards animals ? These are some of the questions to answer before answering the question of the 'right to switch it off'.

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