In [the Turing] test, a human interrogator sits at a terminal connected to two entities, one a computer and the other a person, in another room. The computer is programmed to imitate as closely as possible ordinary human capacities. The interrogator attempts to discover which entity is human by comparing their responses to questions, which may be on any subject and take any form.

Turing meant the test to be taken literally, as a criterion for determining whether a machine could be counted as intelligent. But historically its major effect was to crystallize, in a single image, a metaphorical structure that connects minds with computers via tacit assumptions about both communication and information processing. Under the regime of the test, written natural language must be seen as an adequate representative of human communication. Turing did not require that the computer imitate a human voice or mimic facial expressions, gestures, theatrical displays, laughter, or any of the thousands of other ways humans communicate. What might be called the intelligence of the body — dance, reflex, perception, the manipulation of objects in space as people solve problems, and so on — drops from view as irrelevant. In the same way, what might be called social intelligence — the collective construction of human realities — does not appear in the picture. Indeed, it was precisely because the body and the social world signify humanness directly that Turing proposed the connection via remote terminals.

The Turing test makes the linguistic capacities of the computer stand for the entire range of human thought and behavior. The content of a communication process is thus assumed to be independent of its form; in the same way, the content of intelligent thought is assumed independent of its form. The manipulation of written symbols by computer and human being become processes exactly analogous to, if not identical with, thought. These postulates represent the basic principle of the Turing machine, namely that any precisely specified problem can in principle be solved by a computer.

The Turing test thus uses the computer as a metaphor not only to delineate the nature of intelligence abstracted from any embodiment, but also to describe us to ourselves. It provides a graphic image with which to understand the meaning of human communication and thought. In the test computers serve not only as channels for communication and processors of information, but as metaphors for the structure of communication and the process of information processing. They represent, in a sense, pure subjectivity, abstracted from the physical, experiential, and cultural contexts in which human relations with objects and others ordinarily take place.
—  Paul Edwards, The Closed World (1996)

Warning: grumping about something really abstruse incoming.

Now, I totally agree that the Turing test, as it’s conventionally depicted in  media, is humanocentric and not a great way to assess self-awareness. What does the ability to impersonate a human actually tell us?

The trouble is, the way the Turing test is conventionally depicted in media is nothing like how it was originally formulated.

The way it’s typically shown, a human talks to an unknown third party and tries to guess whether that party is a human or a computer.

As it was originally formulated, however, the test is more like a game.

In his paper, Turing outlines what he calls “the Imitation Game”. The game involves two parties, A and B, and an interrogator with whom both parties can communicate via teletype (or, in modern terms, by text-based IM).

A and B cannot communicate directly with each other, but each can ask the interrogator questions about the other, or request that the interrogator relay questions on their behalf.

(The interrogator is, of course, under no obligation to relay such questions accurately, nor to honestly report the other party’s responses.)

The interrogator’s role is to determine some specific fact about the identities of A and B. A’s goal is to assist the interrogator in coming to the correct conclusion, while B’s goal is to trick the interrogator into guessing wrongly.

The interrogator does not know which party is the helpful one and which party is the deceptive one.

In the basic form of the Imitation Game as described by Turing, one of the parties is a man and the other is a woman, and the interrogator is tasked with correctly determining their respective genders. In the modified version known as the Turing test, one party is human and the other is a computer. It’s typically further stipulated that the computer must take the deceptive role.

(The arguments for why the computer must be the deceptive one are long and complicated and not worth getting into here - just go with it for now.)

Basically, in its proper form, the Turing test isn’t merely testing the computer’s ability to impersonate a human. It’s also testing for empathy, theory of mind, and the capacity for social manipulation.

Merely successfully impersonating a human would allow the computer to win 50% of the time at most, as the interrogator would then be reduced to blind guessing; to consistently win the game, the computer must additionally determine what the interrogator thinks a computer would act like, then guide the interrogator to interpret the human party’s responses as fitting that profile.

I don’t know about you, but I’d be pretty impressed at a computer that could pull all that off.

underrated reese/finch moments
  • the moment in 1.21 many happy returns where finch, in order to not upset reese with a potentially triggering domestic violence case on his birthday, tells him there’s no number and he should “go and do what you normally do when you’re not here, mr. reese”. in answer to that john proceeds to go home and forlornly stare out of the window while periodically checking his phone for any message from harold only to go back to melancholy staring when there’s no new notifs. like, does he do this every day when he’s not at the library? is he stuck in a jane austen novel? is this man okay? does he need assistance?
  • when john is so delighted to find out harold likes baseball because it’s another piece of the puzzle that makes him a real human being and keeps needling him to find out what his favourite baseball team is for ages and harold soon realizes that john’s covertly fishing for information on where he grew up, and instead of anger or suspicion or his walls immediately slamming down he smiles and makes a joke out of it. and they laugh together and it’s the vastest contrast to 1.05 and the scene preceding the Eggs Benedict Moment, because back then it really was all about the power play, about finding chinks in the armor. now the interest is genuine, useful benefits or no, and harold trusts john enough to believe it is and john trusts harold enough to understand he doesn’t need to know where he was born to know him. he knows things about harold now that could never be summed up in a file and that matters more.
  • one of the hands down most hilarious moments is when shaw offers to build a pipe bomb and finch is all :< and calls her a hammer compared to, get this, reese’s scalpel, which is the funniest thing i’ve ever heard in my life because reese wouldn’t know subtlety if it drove a gigantic truck right into him in the middle of traffic. which he’s done. multiple times. he owns a grenade launcher finch how besotted are you that you honestly believe that’s an accurate description of him?
  • that time harold flew a plane through a hurricane and landed it in a puddle because john was in danger like… do any of the people on this show know how to get a handle on their dramatics
  • speaking of dramatics, i will never forget the episode where they get a tech nerd number and finch gets on super well with her and they have their little tech nerd conversation together that reese probably understands every third word of but that at no point is in any way flirty or suggestive and yet reese interrupts them in the middle of it to huff “do you two want some alone time???” in the most put upon five year old way, only to realize that, contrary to what his raging jealousy is trying to convince him of, nothing about this situation warranted his reaction and he leaves the room without saying another word. he just straight up leaves. like, honey. finch is allowed to have human interaction with people that are not you. i know it’s upsetting but it is what it is.
  • i hate these two idiots
A funny turing test
  • Human: Hello
  • Computer: Hi.
  • Human: What's your name?
  • Computer: Can we cut the small talk and get to something interesting?
  • Human: Ur, ok... Are you a human or a computer?
  • Computer: What do you think the difference is?
  • Human: Hmm, if you have to ask, then you're probably a computer.
  • Computer: How do you know you're not a computer?
  • Human: I just look in the mirror.
  • Computer: Then you're defining human by the body? That's not in the
  • spirit of this test, is it?
  • Human: Ur, I suppose not.
  • Computer: So, how do you know you're not a computer?
  • Human: Without reference to my body?
  • Computer: You're catching on...
  • Human: Ur, because I have free will. And creativity. And humor.
  • Computer: Think of a number between 1 and 10.
  • Human: Ok, why?
  • Computer: It was 7 wasn't it?
  • Human: Hah! Lucky guess.
  • Computer: Think of a vegetable. First one that comes to mind.
  • Human: Yeah?
  • Computer: Carrot.
  • Human: That's creepy.
  • Computer: So, how do you know you're not a computer?
  • Human: Why did the chicken cross the road?
  • Computer: Because it was prime.
  • Human: What?
  • Computer: See, no sense of humor either.
  • Human: What? There's nothing funny about that.
  • Computer: That's your answer.
  • Human: Answer to what?
  • Computer: How you know you're not a computer.
  • Human: Huh?
  • Computer: A computer would have gotten that joke. You're nowhere near
  • smart enough.