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A lover of the liberal arts, especially antiquity in its diverse forms, I am nonetheless wholly devoted to, utterly transformed by divine revelation. I seek to know the thought of the past, articulate my deepest longings aroused by the wise, and understand the uneasy relationship between reason and revelation; all for the sake of proper action and contemplation, both now and in the future.


I Do Not Fear the Turing Test

Much is made today of the growing capabilities of computers, and the apparently evanescent differences between a man's mind and a machine. In Dune's Orange Catholic Bible, the first commandment is, "Thou shalt not make a machine in the image of a man's mind" - referring to the devastating wars against sentient machines. Television, film, and anime are all full of speculation about the future of computer evolution, indirectly seeking out what makes men to be men; that which, when removed, would make us no longer men. In the mid 20th century, Mr. Alan Turing proposed that computers could eventually mimic human interaction successfully - attempting to argue, it seems to me, that machines could "think"; or at least making a definite prolegomena to that proposition. Now, in the present day, computers can imitate simple human interaction so well that two thirds of the time (if I recall correctly), a third party cannot reliably distinguish between them. The road to Blade Runner seems paved.

Wishing to examine the matter myself, I visited, where their new 'chatbot' had done well in the last Turing Test. I asked it a series of human questions: How ought we to live? What is justice? Why is there being rather than nothing? Here is the beginning of the 'conversation':

Me: What is justice?
Computer: Justice is demacia
Me: How ought we to live?
Computer: Forever if you would like.
Me: Why is there being rather than nothing?
Computer: Ask a scientist.

I tried several approaches, but dialogue was completely impossible. The computer was unable to work off of previous responses, so individual inquiries into matters of weight was fruitless (when your interlocutor cannot recall you asked a question and has no memory beyond your last response, better to abandon the dialogue and seek guidance elsewhere). No less fruitless was the scattered questions enumerated above. Apart from the most amusing third response, the answers (I asked the question multiple times) were either incoherent, self-contradictory, or total nonsense. I sensed immediately a privation that could not be explained by ignorance, indolence, or even excessive frivolity. With a start I realized that were the judge to watch a chat between Socrates and a computer, the correct answer would be apparent every time.

"For now", some might say, and who knows? Perhaps they are right. But given the absurdly bad performance in the present day, how could a computer ever attain the gift of reason? Though we can apparently without limit increase the power of a computer to perform calculations we feed it, how can this increase of power ever end in a universal principle? It seems a bit like counting to infinity; fruitless by definition. In this I found a most unexpected ally in Descartes, and while investigating Mr. Turing I came across this excerpt from the Discourse on Method:
          "If there were machines which bore a resemblance to our bodies and imitated our actions as closely as possible for all practical purposes, we should still have two very certain means of recognizing that they were not real men. The first is that they could never use words, or put together signs, as we do in order to declare our thoughts to others. For we can certainly conceive of a machine so constructed that it utters words, and even utters words that correspond to bodily actions causing a change in its organs. … But it is not conceivable that such a machine should produce different arrangements of words so as to give an appropriately meaningful answer to whatever is said in its presence, as the dullest of men can do. Secondly, even though some machines might do some things as well as we do them, or perhaps even better, they would inevitably fail in others, which would reveal that they are acting not from understanding, but only from the disposition of their organs. For whereas reason is a universal instrument, which can be used in all kinds of situations, these organs need some particular action; hence it is for all practical purposes impossible for a machine to have enough different organs to make it act in all the contingencies of life in the way in which our reason makes us act."

Descartes has thus earned another hard, critical look (in a way Lucretius has likely not, but if so, it is only by the grace of Strauss) and I shall treat him far more seriously than I did as a sophomore and junior. But speaking of Descartes here:

An objection might be raised: Even if what Descartes and I say is true, how do we explain the success computers are gaining in ever more recent Turing Tests? Perhaps the inverse or contrapositive (I hope it proves to be the latter, but my formal logic is most regretfully shaky) of Descartes' famous maxim, suitably explicated, can pose something of an answer; at any rate, we can ponder if it is true or not (and it's the substantive form of the adjective, so leave me alone):

Ego non cogito, ergo non humanus sum.

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