[lit-ideas] Re: The Answering Machine

  • From: Donal McEvoy <donalmcevoyuk@xxxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: "lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx" <lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Thu, 12 Jan 2012 23:34:02 +0000 (GMT)

 From: Robert Paul <rpaul@xxxxxxxx>

"Donal wrote

>> >> A Turing test is based on the idea, you've got this right, that
>> if you talk with the machine can can't tell the difference between
>> talking with a machine and talking with a person, you call the
>> machine intelligent.>>"

Donal did not write this but quoted it; not that it much matters.

"John McCreery replied

> Could be. Turing's point was that if the machine interacted with humans in
> a way indistinguishable from the way other humans did there would be no way
> to tell the difference."

John was not replying to the words wrongly attributed to me above but to a much 
longer reply that applied World 1, 2 and 3 thinking to the idea of machines 
being able to think.

Robert refers us to a paper by Turing published in Mind. (This is the same Mind 
that turned down Popper's 'The Poverty of Historicism' but saw fit for 
publication Turing's somewhat tenuous thoughts.) Perhaps it was the novelty of 
computers then that made Mind step back to allow Turing, as an expert in 
computers, to have his say, even though his paper contains material as dubious 
as the following:-

9) The Argument from Extrasensory Perception 

I assume that the reader is familiar with the idea of extrasensory perception, 
and the meaning of the four items of it, viz., telepathy, clairvoyance, 
precognition and psychokinesis. These disturbing phenomena seem to deny all our 
usual scientific ideas. How we should like to discredit them! Unfortunately the 
statistical evidence, at least for telepathy, is overwhelming. It is very 
difficult to rearrange one's ideas so as to fit these new facts in. Once one 
has accepted them it does not seem a very big step to believe in ghosts and 
bogies. The idea that our bodies move simply according to the known laws of 
physics, together with some others not yet discovered but somewhat similar, 
would be one of the first to go.

This argument is to my mind quite a strong one. One can say in reply that many 
scientific theories seem to remain workable in practice, in spite of clashing 
with ESP; that in fact one can get along very nicely if one forgets about it. 
This is rather cold comfort, and one fears that thinking is just the kind of 
phenomenon where ESP may be especially relevant.

A more specific argument based on ESP might run as follows: "Let us play the 
imitation game, using as witnesses a man who is good as a telepathic receiver, 
and a digital computer. The interrogator can ask such questions as 'What suit 
does the card in my right hand belong to?' The man by telepathy or clairvoyance 
gives the right answer 130 times out of 400 cards. The machine can only guess 
at random, and perhaps gets 104 right, so the interrogator makes the right 
identification." There is an interesting possibility which opens here. Suppose 
the digital computer contains a random number generator. Then it will be 
natural to use this to decide what answer to give. But then the random number 
generator will be subject to the psychokinetic powers of the interrogator. 
Perhaps this psychokinesis might cause the machine to guess right more often 
than would be expected on a probability calculation, so that the interrogator 
might still be unable to make the right
 identification. On the other hand, he might be able to guess right without any 
questioning, by clairvoyance. With ESP anything may happen.

If telepathy is admitted it will be necessary to tighten our test up. The 
situation could be regarded as analogous to that which would occur if the 
interrogator were talking to himself and one of the competitors was listening 
with his ear to the wall. To put the competitors into a "telepathy-proof room" 
would satisfy all requirements.
Now where to begin with this? For starters, perhaps someone could explain what 
is the "overwhelming...statistical evidence..for telepathy"? That there is 
compelling evidence for E.S.P. is certainly discounted by Sir Karl in 'The Self 
and Its Brain', but perhaps Popper simply overlooked the simply 
"overwhelming...statistical evidence"? Whatever the statistical evidence, the 
paper does not suggest that Turing is much of a philosopher, though admittedly 
this might said be of many academic philosophers also.


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