On Tuesday, October 10, Jerry Kaplan will give an Open lecture at LUISS on artificial intelligence, machine learning and the future of the labor market. For the occasion, LUISS Open has published an extract of his book, Artificial Intelligence: What Everybody Needs to Know, printed here with kind permission from Oxford University Press. The book has been translated into Italian with the title Intelligenza artificiale. Uomini, macchine e il futuro del lavoro by LUISS University Press.
Can a computer "think"?
The noted English mathematician Alan Turing considered this question in a 1950 essay entitled “Computing Machinery and Intelligence.” In it, he proposes, essentially, to put the issue to a vote. Constructing what he calls the imitation game, he imagines an interrogator in a separate room, communicating with a man and a woman only through written communication (preferably typed), attempting to guess which interlocutor is the man and which is the woman.
The man tries to fool the interrogator into thinking he is the woman, leaving the woman to proclaim her veracity (in vain, as Turing notes) in an attempt to help the interrogator make the correct identification. Turing then invites the reader to imagine substituting a machine for the man, and a man for the woman. (The imitation game is now widely called the Turing Test.)
Leaving aside the remarkable psychological irony of this famously homosexual scientist tasking the man with convincing the interrogator that he is a woman, not to mention his placing the man in the role of deceiver and the woman as truth teller, he goes on to ask whether it’s plausible that the machine could ever win this game against a man. (That is, the machine is tasked with fooling the interrogator into thinking it is the man, while the man is telling the truth about who he is.)
Contrary to the widely held belief that Turing was proposing an entrance exam to determine whether machines had come of age and become intelligent, he was actually speculating that our common use of the term think would eventually stretch sufficiently to be appropriately applied to certain machines or programs of adequate capability. His estimate of when this might occur was the end of the twentieth century, a remarkably accurate guess considering that we now routinely refer to computers as thinking, mostly when we are waiting impatiently for them to respond.
In his words, “The original question, ‘Can machines think?’ I believe to be too meaningless to deserve discussion. Nevertheless, I believe that at the end of the century the use of words and general educated opinion will have altered so much that one will be able to speak of machines thinking without expecting to be contradicted.”