If you haven’t heard, there is a new film about Alan Turing, one of the original computer scientists to ponder the question: Can machines think? Over at Kill Screen, David Shimomura writes that it may be time to put the Turing Test to bed.
In reaction to the Turing Test, philosopher John Searle proposed the thought experiment known as the Chinese Room. Whereas Turing considered “thought” Searle questioned whether a machine could have a “mind” or a consciousness. He proposes that given a man in a locked room with a sufficiently sophisticated dictionary or rulebook might be able to receive questions in Chinese and then respond to those questions accurately with the rulebook. Thus, the man in the room would be able to convince the interrogator that he can speak Chinese despite having no ability to comprehend or understand the meaning of the responses he is making. Searle believes that such a program could pass a Turing Test but in no way understand what it has done. This leaves us wondering: What is the point of a machine intelligence if it cannot understand the responses it is providing? Without an understanding of semantics involved is a machine intelligent? Certainly ELIZA had no means of understanding such things; it was designed to dodge them. The same with Eugene Goostman. Both evade true understanding by misdirection and misunderstanding because they simply lack the capacity for it.
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We continue to see this question explored in fascinating films like 2001: A Space Odyssey. But shows like Star Trek: The Next Generation took it to the next level in terms of how it explored what it means to be human through Lieutenant Commander Data.
As an amateur Sci-Fi writer, I took on this topic in The Three Magi of Katrina. In the story, the Singularity gives the keynote at SC30 in New Orleans as a hurricane bears down on the city. What he doesn’t know is that a technophobe assassin has other plans. I invite you to check it out.
To this humble HPC journalist, the idea of a Singularity is something that will always send me to the Cinema. And sometimes, I can’t help go back to my days of listening to the 2112 Rush album and the line that goes:
We are the priests, of the Temples of Syrinx.
Our Great Computers fill the Hallowed Halls.
That, my friends, was my introduction to HPC back in 1976 when the album came out. What’s funny is that Seymour Cray installed the first Cray-1 at Los Alamos that very same year. I joined the company as an intern 10 years later.