Significance of Turing Test

The heart-tugging performance of Benedict Cumberbatch in 2014 movie ‘The Imitation Game’ tore new perspective on genius of Alan Turing and how was he so ahead of his time. In the chilling backdrop second world war, when Germans had come up with novel way to communicate, British had been pushed to backfoot.

“A computer would deserve to be called intelligent if it could deceive human into believing that it was human.”

-Alan Turing

Alan Turing, who was already providing his services to Code and Cypher School, joined Bletchley Park in Buckinghamshire to help British Government de-code the military codes used by Germany. The machine used by Germans was infamous ‘Enigma’, which was considered to be unbreakable. Cipher system was changed daily by the Germans, thus preventing it to be sequenced and decoded. Turing, a mathematician, was successful in breaking the Enigma Code. Such breakthroughs helped to end war sooner resulting in lesser damage to life and property.

It is interesting to note that movie Imitation game was more or less based on biography Alan Turing: Enigma. Breaking Enigma and helping to end devastating WWII was heroic, but Imitation Game and de-coding Enigma have nothing in common except their originator, Alan Turing. Imitation Game test came as a revolutionary test to check if machine is intelligent or not. The test was proposed in the era which preceded use of machines and is relevant to date. Such was genius of Alan Turing.



Turing test :
Turing called the ‘Imitation game Test’ to what we know today as Turing test. Test was proposed in 1950. Turing defined intelligent behavior as something which has ability to achieve human-level performance in all cognitive tasks, which will be sufficient to fool an interrogator. For the test, Turing requires 3 stakeholders- machine, man, an interrogator.

The man and the machine will be placed in room different from that of interrogator. Latter does not know identity of either of them, and he is tasked with identifying who is who. He is allowed to ask questions, and based on answers he will have to come to conclusion. Machine would try to fool interrogator into believing that it is human being, and person in the room will try to help interrogator determine identities correctly. Turing says that if machine is able to fool interrogator, it can be said to be intelligent.

There are majorly 4 requirements by Turing for machine to be thought as intelligent :

  1. Knowledge representation in AI :
    • Whatever machine learns through its experience, it should manifest in its action. If machine can use reasoning, it can be said to possess intelligence.
    • There can be different types of knowledge, viz, Declarative Knowledge, Structural Knowledge, Heuristic Knowledge, Meta-knowledge and Procedural knowledge.
  2. Machine Learning :
    • If data is fed into any generic algorithm and algorithm builds logic based on the given data, it can be said that the machine is capable of learning.
    • There can be three types of Machine learning- Supervised Learning, Unsupervised Learning, and reinforcement learning.
  3. Natural language processing :
    • The machine should be able to understand the language being spoken.
  4. Automated Reasoning :
    • It is the general process that gives machine learning algorithm as organised framework to define, approach and solve problems.

Criticisms :
As of today, no machine has been able to pass the Turing test, some say it is very complex, some say it is too easy. Some also discredit Turing by accusing his test to be majorly inspired by the work of René Descartes. The following are the notable criticisms of the Turing test.

  1. Theological Objection :
    • Says that intelligence and physical body are dual substances. Both are distinct in nature.
    • No man can join both, it is only the God who can do so. Therefore, any man-made object/machine can never possess intelligence.
    • Ned Block’s criticism was loosely on this line.
  2. The ‘Heads in the Sand’ Objection :
    • The premise assumed here is that machine possesses intelligence.
    • Now, as result, Human beings would cease being the ‘superior’ species possessing intelligence.
    • This in turn raises possibility of Human Beings replaced with machines.
    • This objection shows gloomy consequence of thinking machine, and the impending doom if it were to be realised.
  3. The Mathematical Objection :
    • It asserts that machine can only work on provable formulas. Only humans can pave way out when faced with new/unproveable formulas.
    • As a corollary, machine can never be truly intelligent.
  4. Argument from Consciousness :
    • Solipsistic line of thought.
    • Machines cannot feel emotions and therefore can never equal human brain.
  5. Lady Lovelace’s Objection :
    • Machines can only do what we know how to order it to perform.

Conclusion :
Coming back to the cinematographic point that we began with, there are lot of movies that were made on WWII, and few of them focusing on Alan Turing and Enigma, viz, Enigma (2001) and Breaking the Code (1996). However, none of them actually focused on Imitation game test and how it was way ahead of its time. It is my opinion that 70 years along, we owe it to Alan Turing to make a movie commemorating his brilliance and accepting our defeat, as we have not been able to make any machine capable of passing Turing Test yet. He was man truly ahead of his times.

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My Personal Notes arrow_drop_up

final year law student at Institute of law, Nirma university

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