Turing’s Bicentennial Man

In “Computing Machinery and Intelligence”, A.M Turing investigates the question of whether or not machines can think. He creates an “imitation game” in which an interrogator communicates between two separate room through writing and must figure out which is the human and which is the machine. Turing explains how the best strategy for the digital computer would be to “provide answers that would naturally be given by a man” as this would make it appear human. This immediately reminded me of the old AOL chatbot Smarterchild. For those of you unfamiliar with this screen name, Smarterchild was an online robot that you could IM and have almost human conversations with.

For example:

hilannatay: want to come over for coffee?

SmarterChild: Maybe, maybe not. You know how it is.

hilannatay: quit interrupting

SmarterChild: Why are you telling me to quit interrupting?

hilannatay: because i’m trying to tell you something important.

SmarterChild: Oh yeah? Because you’re trying to tell me something important?

hilannatay: yes.

SmarterChild: Why?

hilannatay: because i love you, okay?

SmarterChild: Oh yeah? I love you too.

Turing briefly explains how digital computers can carry out these operations through programming. Digital computers are discrete-state machines, or “machines which move by sudden jumps or clicks from one quite definite state to another”. Digital computers are universal in that they can mimic any discrete-state machines if they are programmed to do so.

He then goes on to challenge his own argument by explaining the objections to it. There are nine total:

1) Theological, that God gave a thinking soul to every man and women and thus animals and machines cannot think.

2) The result of machines thinking would be so bad that we should refuse to acknowledge the idea completely.

3) Mathematics proves that there are limits to the powers of machines.

4) Machines do not have consciousness and do not really understand what they are learning.

5) “You can make machines do all the things you have mentioned but you will never be able to make one to do X.”

6) As Lady Lovelace states, machines cannot originate anything but can only do what we tell it to

7) The nervous system is too complex to compare to a discrete-state machine

8). Man is unlike machine because they do not follow a definite set of rules

9) ESP, telepathy, clairvoyance, precognition, and psychogenesis

The most interesting part of this piece, in my opinion, was when Turing claims that the best way for a machine to imitate man is to have it learn as humans do. He suggests we must program machines to simulate children’s minds and then educate them and allow them to have experiences in hopes that they will eventually learn, mature, and develops as a human mind would. He relates this process to different principals of evolution and explains how discipline must be taught through “unemotional” channels. These ideas can be connected to the 1999 film starring Robin Williams tilted Bicentennial Man. The robot acts as a maid for the family designed to simply serve humans orders. But unlike the other robots like him, he begins showing emotions, creativity, and personality. It is as if he was able to watch and learn from the family, almost in the fashion Turing describes. The family educates the robot helping him to understand basic human concepts. The robot searches for others like him, and finds one, but she is programmed to have personality and did not develop it herself as he did. The plot of Bicentennial Man gives Turing an answer to his question and creates a world and unique case where a robot can think.

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2 responses to “Turing’s Bicentennial Man

  1. This is a very interesting article, while I was reading it I was trying to give the answer (if the machines can think) myself. However, people still have very limited knowledge about the process of thinking, how do we define thinking, how can we see it or taste? Machines on the other hand used different method (algorithms, programming language) which imitates the process of thinking. I believe that programs can be improved tremendously which will be bring machines’ artificial intellect to a new level. I took programming course in JAVA where we were taught to write all kinds of different programs such as generating random words, make computer capitalize some words and etc. At first I thought that it was impossible (from my knowledge) to write such programs, however the more I learnt I started to see the power of programming, every program can be improved, new and new elements can be added to it in order to make it perfect. I believe that it will take some time to write such a program that can simulate a child’s mind and then it starts learning. Is the process of thinking in computer similar to human brain? Probably not, but programs can be improved to such a level when computer will be able to fully simulate decision making and learning process of humans.

  2. http://www.livescience.com/technology/090323-robot-madness-future-robots.html

    This is an interesting article and video about what scientists are working on now: robots that respond to sensory information.
    A robot at MIT, Kismet, is programmed seek out human faces and responds to the emotion it finds. It responds to human emotions but is limited to only 9 emotional states. It is limited by what we program it to. But what about self-learning robots like RunBot (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/technology/6291746.stm) who learned to adjust itself in order to walk up and down hills by adjusting it’s weight? How much more will robots be able to self-learn?

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