The Profoundly Weird, Gender-Specific Roots Of The Turing Test

We had a story about a computer program passing the Turing Test last week that turned out to be a flash in the pan because 1. it was a chatbot, not a computer, and 2. it’s really easy to impersonate a 13-year-old boy speaking in his second language. But the story made people more curious about the Turing Test itself. How did it come about? It turns out that Alan Turing’s original idea in 1950 is quite different from what people think of as the Turing Test today.

He begins by describing a scenario where a man and a woman would both try to convince the remote, unseen interrogator that they are female, using type-written responses or by speaking through an intermediary. The real action, however, comes when the man in replaced by a machine. “Will the interrogator decide wrongly as often when the game is played like this as he does when the game is played between a man and a woman?” asks Turing.

The Imitation Game asks a computer to not only imitate a thinking human, but a specific gender of thinking human. It sidesteps the towering hurdles associated with creating human-like machine intelligence, and tumbles face-first into what should be a mathematician’s nightmare—the unbounded, unquantifiable quagmire of gender identity.

What we now know as the Turing Test has been refined and clarified since then, not by Turing, but by other academics after Turing died in 1954. The Imitation Game, as the original is called, is an intriguing idea, but one that opens up more questions. What is involved in trying to impersonate the opposite sex, whether you are a human or machine? How does the judge, or anyone, perceive these differences? And quite importantly, how have the parameters of such a deception changed over time since Turing proposed the idea? I’m reminded of the application that guesses whether a block of text or a blog is written by a man or a woman. The text analyzer did not guess my latest article correctly, as shown below.

Now I wonder how the Imitation Game would differ if a woman competed with a machine to convince the judge that each was a man. But I digress. Read about the origins of the Imitation Game and how Turing’s idea evolved into the Turing Test at PopSci.  -via Boing Boing

(Image credit: Jon Callas)

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Not so strange when one realizes Turing's own gender issues. His original "game" was an attempt to start a discussion of what it meant to own a gender identity.
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