[lit-ideas] Re: The Answering Machine

  • From: John Wager <jwager@xxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Wed, 11 Jan 2012 09:22:39 -0600

I understand that a Turing machine may be much MUCH more complex than a phone answering system, but it's still a matter of degree, not one of

some hidden qualitative difference.

The original question about whether an answering machine answers seems to be the right context to look at the Turing challenge.

When I call a phone and an answering machine is on the other end, I don't bother to try to have a conversation; it's not going to answer.

When a person is on the other end of the phone, I don't talk to the phone or to the answering system, I talk to the other person by means of the phone. (The answering system is really a means as well; my message is not intended for the answering machine, it's intended for the person I wanted to talk to by means of the phone.)

So in my understanding of a Turing machine, I call the equivalent of a phone number and get an answer of some kind. I'm not sure if it's a person or an answering machine. If I start a conversation and I can't tell it's NOT a person, the machine thinks.

But this is still a matter of intentionality. I talk THROUGH the phone to a person; I don't talk to answering machines. So when I talk to what I TAKE to be a person, am I talking to a machine, or am I talking THROUGH the machine to the person who USED that machine to communicate with me?

I don't see that the "Turing test" is really a test of whether machines can think; the person who is communicating to me BY MEANS OF that machine is still a person, not a machine.

If I suspected that the person who had created a really really good answering machine was tricking me by having it respond with a degree of independence of what the person on the other end of the line was doing, I might try to come up with some ways to see how that person was trying to trick me, but I would still be trying to communicate with the person doing the tricking, not the machine itself.

John McCreery wrote:
A Turing machine and an answering machine differ in one fundamental way. An answering machine is limited to a finite set of answers (typically with only one member). A Turing machine shares with human beings the ability to generate an infinite number of different answers, thanks to combinatorics and recursion.
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