A Pencil Named Steve

The Turing Test is one which has baffled me since I first heard about it. Basically, when Turing was asking himself what it would mean for a computer to become sentient, he decided that he would count a computer as sentient if, in conversation with it, you were unable to tell whether or not it was a human being. 

This struck me as bizarre at the time, and more bizarre as we have seen the test be run thousands of times in peoples’ conversations with ChatGPT and its ilk. (For those who missed it, in June of last year, Blake Lemoine, one of Google’s engineers, was fired after he became convinced, “talking” with one of the prototype natural language simulations, called LAMBDA, that the chatbot was in fact conscious). If there is one thing humans are good at, it’s believing things to be persons. It’s like… very easy for us, and very hard for us not to do. We are persons, and we anthropomorphize absolutely everything. I used to be scared of the curtains in my parents bedroom because in the dark it seemed like there were people standing behind them. The tendency to see faces in patterns is so pervasive that it has a name – pareidolia. 

We are even prone to do this if we make the thing in question: if we paint a frowny face on a rock we kind of feel like the rock might be unhappy. If you give a child a stuffy, you know that child is going to immediately begin to ascribe personhood to it, even if it is a stuffed animal you made and she saw you making it. Of course humans would be able to make a computer program that would be able to fool other humans into thinking it was a person, and in Lemoine’s case, able to fool himself. We’re incredibly good at making personish things and incredibly good at then kind of thinking they are persons. 

Just to point out, this tendency, to make personish things, then get excessively impressed with and excited about them and ascribe agency and maybe power to them and ask them for help with things, is noted in the Old Testament a good bit; it is called idolatry.

Susannah Black Roberts

This sort of thing reminds me, as it always does, of Steve the Pencil:

Leave a Comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s