Turing test in science fiction

The decade isn’t over yet, but we’ve seen some remarkable advancements in the field of artificial intelligence. We’ve marveled at the invention of the first self-driving car in 1995. We’ve witnessed Deep Blue beat Garry Kasparov in 1997. Lastly and more recently we’ve had the chance to enjoy the company of Apple’s Siri, Google’s Assistant, Microsoft’s Cortana, and Amazon’s Alexa. Nevertheless, the advancements don’t end there.

While much advancement in artificial intelligence came about relatively recently, the idea of a machine-based artificial intelligence actually existed even before the computer. Its theoretical basis came about in the 1950s, introduced by British mathematician Alan Turing.

Alan Turing and The Imitation Game

In 1951 Alan Turing proposed a test in a paper called The Imitation Game. The test aimed to finally settle the issue of machine intelligence. The first version of the Turing test did not involve computer intelligence. In the first test they had three participants: a man, a woman, and a judge. They were all separated into 3 different rooms. To communicate between each other, each room had a computer screen and a keyboard. The objective was for the judge to find out which one of the two participants talking to him via computer was a man. The judge had no physical clues of either person. The man’s job was to convince the judge that he was the man and at the same time the woman tried to trick the judge to identify her as the man instead.

Turing then proposed a modification of the game, in which a computer was involved. Now the judge had to find out which one of the participants was a human and which one was a machine. Under these conditions, if the judge was as likely to pick the human as the computer, then the computer would be considered as ”intelligent” since it was able to simulate a human being. This process then came to be known as the Turing Test.

The Turing Test

In computer science the Turing Test is done to demonstrate the ability of a computer or a machine to simulate human behaviour. The test can be used to measure the quality of a machine’s artificial intelligence in a text-only conversation. The machine will pass the test if the observer can’t tell the difference between the artificial intelligence and human being.

This was demonstrated somewhat in 2014 when Reading University claimed that a team of Russian scientists had successfully devised an algorithm that could pass the Turing Test. They claimed that they had managed to persuade one out of three judges, that it was a 13-year-old Ukrainian boy named Eugene Goostman through a series of online chats.

While the Turing Test doesn’t really hold much value in the human world yet, it does mean serious business when it comes to the world of science fiction. In a world full of androids, humanoids, and high-level artificial intelligence the Turing Test is perhaps one of the best tools for differentiating metal and silicone from flesh and bones.

Artificial Intelligence and the Turing Test in Science Fiction

The first idea of artificial intelligence in science fiction can perhaps be traced back to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, which gives a look at Dr. Frankenstein’s successful attempt to create life – but not intelligence. The created being was treated like a monster, which led him to go on a rampage. He blamed the doctor’s treatment of him as the reason for his monstrous behavior. This is a trope widely depicted in the future depictions of artificial intelligence.

”The AI killing humans because they are becoming a threat” trope has been portrayed countless times in movies such as HAL 9000 in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, SkyNet and its robotic assassins in Terminator, Gort from The Day the Earth Stood Still, and many more. All of these movies represent the scary, potential future, that Turing described as the time when machines and artificial intelligence have taken over the world.

But where does the Turing Test fit in all of this?

In futuristic time period where machines have humanoid forms and superior artificial intelligence, their ability to pass the Turing Test in its original form is highly probable. The results of highly-advanced, sentient, super computers such as HAL 9000 and SkyNet attempting to fool humans through a text-based conversation is certainly never in question. This begs the question of whether the Turing Test can be a valid test for distinguishing artificial intelligence from humans.

One of the flaws of the Turing Test is highlighted in Ex Machina where the judge is already aware that he is testing a machine. Another flaw is when the test guidelines are relatively too simple that even a chatbot such as Eugene Goostman can pass the test. So how will highly-intelligent supercomputers be tested then?

Perhaps the answer lies in modifying the actual test itself. Several modifications to the Turing Test have been proposed in order to accurately distinguish artificial intelligence from humans. In Blade Runner a much more accurate Voight-Kampf test was used to distinguish replicants from humans. In the movie the fictionalized twist on the Turing Test was designed to catch replicants, highly-intelligent humanoids posing as humans.

But Why Does the Turing Test Matter?

In the world of science fiction passing the Turing Test or any modified form could lead to the destruction of all machines in the world, so that humans could continue to exist. However, in the real world the threat of killer robots and humanoid assassins is but a far cry from the reality as we already live in the world of cheeky chatbots and relatively intelligent voice assistants right in our phones.

In the real world passing the Turing Test doesn’t really hold any value. In fact, it should be considered more as a test for humans and not for robots. Moreover, it is a testament to a programmer’s ability to create complex algorithms capable of mimicking human behavior. It is a way for humankind to measure this ability and its progress in creating more intelligent machines that could later hold much value in our ever-changing world.