In Defense of Life: Alan Turing, the Original Hacker.

According to Jaron Lanier, the right way to think about Alan Turing's famous "Turing Test" is to understand that it "began in the mind of somebody who was very close to suicide," and that this test amounted to "a flight from life, but also a defense of life." 

What's the Big Idea?


Cogito ergo sum. I think, therefore I am. That is how René Descartes famously differentiated humans from other creatures. And yet, that statement might eventually be in need of an update or at least a strong qualifier, as computers are advancing rapidly from animal-like intelligence to one day perhaps equalling and surpassing human intelligence. 

Alan Turing was the first to foresee this possibility in 1950, when he published the seminal essay on artificial intelligence, "Computing Machinery and Intelligence," which proposed a typewritten test to answer the question "Can machines think?"

According to Jaron Lanier, the right way to understand the famous "Turing Test" is to understand that it "began in the mind of somebody who was very close to suicide."

In other words, Alan Turing, who was born 100 years ago today, is the very embodiment of the philosophical issue we face as we integrate technology into every aspect of our lives, and the distinction between man and machine grows ever slipperier. This rapid change to the human condition has been the source of great anxiety, as we start to call into question the very essence of what it is to be human. That is why Lanier says Turing's test amounted to "a flight from life, but also a defense of life." 

Watch the video here:

What's the Significance?

Lanier uses intentionally strong language, arguing that Turing was "murdered" by his government. Turing, after all, was forced to undergo treatments that were designed to change his biology. We can only speculate about the exact psychological state Turing was in when he committed suicide, which he did shortly after he designed his famous 'test,' which Lanier describes as both a "flight from life and a defense of life."

However, as we consider the implications today of merging man and machine, Turing's personal story is a very revealing window into the types of bioethical considerations we need to take into account. What if a government or large corporation can control our biology and attempt to change who we are? 

In slightly less sinister terms -- depending on your perspective -- are we already ceding this control away as we continue to voluntarily integrate technology into every part of our lives, including our bodies and our minds? Are we unintentionally (or in some cases quite intentionally) giving up our humanity in the process?

These are big questions, and we have raised them repeatedly in a series called Humanizing Technology, which examines the ways that technology can make us more, not less, human. To view this series, including additional insights from Jaron Lanier and other experts, click here

Image courtesy of Shutterstock

Follow Daniel Honan on Twitter @Daniel Honan

LinkedIn meets Tinder in this mindful networking app

Swipe right to make the connections that could change your career.

Getty Images
Sponsored
Swipe right. Match. Meet over coffee or set up a call.

No, we aren't talking about Tinder. Introducing Shapr, a free app that helps people with synergistic professional goals and skill sets easily meet and collaborate.

Keep reading Show less

Brain study finds circuits that may help you keep your cool

Research by neuroscientists at MIT's Picower Institute for Learning and Memory helps explain how the brain regulates arousal.

Photo by CHARLY TRIBALLEAU / AFP/ Getty Images
Mind & Brain

MIT News

The big day has come: You are taking your road test to get your driver's license. As you start your mom's car with a stern-faced evaluator in the passenger seat, you know you'll need to be alert but not so excited that you make mistakes. Even if you are simultaneously sleep-deprived and full of nervous energy, you need your brain to moderate your level of arousal so that you do your best.

Keep reading Show less

34 years ago, a KGB defector chillingly predicted modern America

A disturbing interview given by a KGB defector in 1984 describes America of today and outlines four stages of mass brainwashing used by the KGB.

Politics & Current Affairs
  • Bezmenov described this process as "a great brainwashing" which has four basic stages.
  • The first stage is called "demoralization" which takes from 15 to 20 years to achieve.
  • According to the former KGB agent, that is the minimum number of years it takes to re-educate one generation of students that is normally exposed to the ideology of its country.
Keep reading Show less

How pharmaceutical companies game the patent system

When these companies compete, in the current system, the people lose.

Top Video Splash
  • When a company reaches the top of the ladder, they typically kick it away so that others cannot climb up on it. The aim? So that another company can't compete.
  • When this happens in the pharmaceutical world, certain companies stay at the top of the ladder, through broadly-protected patents, at the cost of everyday people benefitting from increased competition.
  • Since companies have worked out how to legally game the system, Amin argues we need to get rid of this "one size fits all" system, which treats product innovation — "tweaks" — the same as product invention.