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RS113 - The Turing Test

Release date: July 27, 2014

Did you know that an artificial intelligence named "Eugene Goostman" recently passed the Turing Test, our gold standard criterion for whether an AI is conscious? At least, that's what many media outlets breathlessly reported. In this episode of Rationally Speaking, Julia and Massimo take a critical look at Eugene, and at the Turing test in general as a standard for consciousness. In the process they debate what it would mean for an AI to be conscious, and how we could ever tell.

Massimo's pick: "Soccer and Philosophy: Beautiful Thoughts on the Beautiful Game "

Julia's pick: "Decisive: How to Make Better Choices in Life and Work"

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Reader Comments (162)

I enjoyed this discussion but was put off by the off hand (and typical of scientists) agreement between M and J that besides humans, probably other apes, maybe dolphins... have conscious minds. Like the recently published study that found that dogs actually show jealousy (wow!), we for some reason approach animal behavior and cognition as if we're dealing with alien creatures, with completely separate anatomies and biochemistries, and therefor how can we possibly know or ever speculate about their minds?

Didn't Darwin teach us that we're all related? Why are we taught not to anthropomorphize animal behaviors when it makes more sense to assume that they think like we do - because we're related. Dog feel jealousy. Who knew?

July 31, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterCurt Nelson


A Turing machine that simulates the brain would simulate consciousness, but it wouldn't produce a brain or consciousness. Simulation just means the ones and zeros in memory or the symbols on a tape represent neurons, but the tape obviously isn't conscious, it's just a tape with symbols.
Massimo likens it to a simulation of photosynthesis that doesn't actually do photosynthesis.

August 3, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterMax


My post was there yesterday, but today it's gone..

Try, try again:

So even if consciousness can be understood, and software can seem to exhibit it by modelling of brain functions, a machine cannot be conscious, because the substrate is wrong.
The substrate has to be a brain?

So by this reasoning, if life is discovered elsewhere in the universe, it could only qualify as conscious if it has a brain, regardless of how much consciousness it appears to have?

How can it be asserted that consciousness as a property a brain can have, cannot exist without a brain?
Seems to me that we don't know enough about consciousness to make that assertion?


August 8, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterPeter

The 13 yr old Ukranian scenario is totally bogus. Suppose you create a "doggy Turing test"
Q Are you a good boy? A. Woof woof. Q Do you want a cookie? A. Woof woof. This would convince the tester that he was communicating with a real dog. Hooray, the computer passed the "doggy Turing test"
Suppose on the other hand you trained a dog to round up a flock of sheep and herd them into a corral. That would be a universally acceptable demonstration of intelligence.
Now, someone invents a robot that can round up a flock of sheep and herd them into a corral. Every AI researcher in the world would be extremely impressed with that robot's intelligence, yet the robot would not have to communicate any word or sentence in any language.
"Specialized Turing test that demonstrates the apparent intelligence of an entity that, by definition, communicates poorly" doesn't work.
What's next, the "Sarah Palin" Turing test?

August 8, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterSteve Aldrich


“What's so special about the brain”; well, for one thing, its the one single example of consciousness that indisputably exists right now. That makes it an important area of study. However, I realise that this doesn't prove that it's the only possible basis for consciousness. I don't think Massimo is arguing that it is, only that we have to take the role of biology more seriously than classical computationalists have. Computationalists have been lead astray by the idea of multiple realisability.

As for “ what's so special about the brain that can't be reproduced by an artificial neural network”, I'm tempted to insert the whole works of John Searle here! Very briefly it depends whether you mean a device that reproduces the functioning of a biological brain in hardware- that is, that reproduces the physical processes that do it in the brain (once we know exactly what those are), or a computational simulation of a neural network, which is what most “neural networks” are. The former could possibly be an artificial brain in the sense of having consciousness and giving rise to intentionality. The latter, the computational device couldn't.

Why? Two main reasons: First, because syntax is not sufficient to give semantics -this is the point of Searle's Chinese Room argument, which I won't restate here. Second , because even syntax is not intrinsic to physics. There are two kinds of things in the universe: observer independent things like rocks and microbes, and observer dependent things like money, languages, political power that really exist, but only because we agree socially that they do. And computing is in the latter group, - it is observer relative- If all beings with minds vanished, computing would no longer exist, while rocks and planets would. This seems an odd idea at first, but having blinked when I first read it, I'm convinced it's right. See Searle's book “rediscovery of the Mind, or more briefly the paper “Critique of Cognitive reason” available freely online, and "The Construction of Social Reality" for the detailed arguments about computation as observer relative.)

So a computer, in the sense of digital data processing, couldn't be the basis of consciousness, because they depend on the prior existence of conscious mind that attribute the computational role to them. Computing is not like sawing or drilling or hammering, a brute physical process; it's like writing or speaking, gaining meaning form the cultural agreement of its users.

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November 21, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterBeverly

I'm thinking of the simplest Turing machine that can simulate a brain. Because it behaves like a brain, it shows that behavior alone doesn't tell you whether something is conscious. It also raises the question whether consciousness is just an evolutionary fluke, since intelligent behavior can happen without it.

December 1, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterHappy New year 2015

The funny thing is that the judges were having a parallel "control" conversation with a human, so those judges who thought Goostman was a human must've had a very robotic human whom they mistook for a bot. Maybe those humans were planted by Goostman's team ;-)

December 1, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterHappy New year 2015

Great content , since intelligent behavior can happen without ii
understand that Turing machines can have arbitrarily complex architectures. Consider a thought experiment where a Turing machine fully replaces the function of the brain. Some people have real brains and some people have Turing machines.

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Your point that a simple machine is not conscious does little to advance the kindaa discussion about complex machines. thannks and great oneI can easily grant that simple machines are not conscious just like i can grant one plus that simple animals are not conscious.

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