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What if a Computer Passed the Turing Test?

July 13, 2013, 1:00 PM

You know, if a computer passes the Turing test, which is this test that Alan Turing devised, 1950 actually, he was very forward looking, basically if a computer passes the Turing test, it is passing for a human, it is indistinguishable from a human, we could talk about the details, but in my view, if a computer could do that, and it can’t do that yet, I mean, Watson’s a very encouraging step in that direction, but when it can do that, I personally will accept it as human.  I believe the common wisdom will be to accept them because they’ll be very convincing.  When they say, “I’m mad at you because you promised me such and so and you didn’t come through,” we’ll believe that it actually has those emotions, because it will have the subtle queues that go along with them.  We won’t want to accuse them of, that nobody is home, because they’ll get mad at us and they’ll be very smart and very influential and so we are going to believe them. 

The movie that Barry Ptolemy made, Transcendent Man, about my life and ideas, deals with this very issue and it’s dealt with in my books and other writings.  You know, passing the Turing test is an objective test of performance.  It’s not actually a demonstration that this entity is conscious.  I would actually maintain that there is no scientific way to demonstrate that an entity is conscious.  It’s only apparent to itself, consciousness is a synonym for subjectivity and there’s a conceptual gap between subjectivity and objective observation, which is what science is.

Some people say, “Okay, it’s not scientific, therefore, it’s not important, it’s just an illusion.  That’s not view either.  Our whole morale system is based on consciousness.  If I hurt a conscious entity, if it’s human, I mean, that’s a crime.  If it’s an animal, it’s animal cruelty.  If it’s, you know, my lamp, it’s probably okay, if it’s your lamp, it’s not okay but that’s not because I’m suffering to the lamp, it’s causing suffering to you, the owner of the lamp.  See, everything has to do with consciousness.

My prediction is, in a few decades, we will come to accept entities that are not biological as conscious.  But it won’t be so clear, it’s not going to be, “Okay, machines on the right side of the room, humans on the left,” it’s going to be all mixed up.  You talk to your biological human, they will have lots of non-biological processes going on in their body and brain.  Those computers will be out on the clouds and the thinking of that “person” isn’t even just in their body and brain even in the non-biological portion, it’s out on the cloud.  So it’s going to be all mixed up, there’s not going to be a clear distinction between human and machine.  The bottom line is we are one human machine, civilization.  This technology has already expanded who we are and is going to go into high gear when we get to the steep part of the exponential. 

In Their Own Words is recorded in Big Think's studio.

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What if a Computer Passed t...

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