Vernor Vinge: Cheating at the Turing Test

Vernor Vinge on cheating at the Turing Test:

As with past computer progress, the achievement of some goals will lead to interesting disputes and insights. Consider two of [Rodney] Brooks's challenges: manual dexterity at the level of a 6-year-old child and object-recognition capability at the level of a 2-year-old. Both tasks would be much easier if objects in the environment possessed sensors and effectors and could communicate. For example, the target of a robot's hand could provide location and orientation data, even URLs for specialized manipulation libraries. Where the target has effectors as well as sensors, it could cooperate in the solution of kinematics issues. By the standards of today, such a distributed solution would clearly be cheating. But embedded microprocessors are increasingly widespread. Their coordinated presence may become the assumed environment. In fact, such coordination is much like relationships that have evolved between living things. [link added]

I don't think Vinge goes nearly far enough. I've thought for at least twenty years that our standards for machine sentience (or any non-human sentience, for that matter) were hopelessly anthropomorphic. For most purposes, "Artificial Intelligence" should have been called "Artificial Human-Like Intelligence."

I lack sympathy for the idea that we have only ourselves to judge it by. People have been dealing with beings of different intelligence for as long as there have been human beings. (We call them "animals.") I'd like to think we've figured out something by now -- or at least figured out how to figure it out -- about how to judge intelligence without provoking the shades of Alan Turing and G. B. Shaw to peals of ghostly laughter.

To Vinge's immediate point: If we require of the machine that it be like us, we are placing an irrelevant constraint on our evaluation of its intelligence. Imagine if machines were evaluating us -- think how short we'd fall in their estimation with our slow electro-chemical communications network, the lossy construction of our visual apparatus. And how slowly we caluclate!

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