A Hand-Wavy Alternative to the Turing Test

Just to get it out of the way, I have no problem with the bona fide Turing Test. I think it would take existential-level skepticism (viz., Radical Doubt) and/or a serious anthro-mammalian chauvinism to deny that it’s a rigorous test of wits, emotion, creativity, and ultimately, consciousness.

However, there are some out there who remain unconvinced of the theoretical possibility of confirming another entity’s (especially a computer’s) consciousness. These are the people who, after pouring their hearts out to some sophisticated software at the other end of a terminal would say, “Yeah, but it’s still just a machine.”

Well to them I daresay I there’s a convincing demonstration of consciousness, a simple one at that. Imagine a future where:

  1. not only do we have human-level AI, but we have reverse-engineered the brain suchly: any arbitrary “thought” — whatever we discover that to mean — can be encoded as a bitstring. In other words, we free the brain’s operating instructions and output from its current, squishy substrate.
  2. it thus becomes possible, and commonplace, for various intelligences to trade, manipulate, and (probably) even sell these bitstrings. The network will be eye to eye, so to speak.
  3. (1) and (2) enable two versions of the Improved Turing Test:
    • Enter the consciousness of some other human B. In other words, achieve the feeling that “I am me” in someone else’s body (by inheriting, downloading, or “running” their bitstring). If this were truly authentic, you would not be aware of any switch. But we’ll assume that after the fact, you are able (via a recording or something) to observe what you’ve done. Now do the same thing with the computer C. Contrast and compare.
    • Slightly less appealing version: simultaneously inhabit (in a kind of weird superposition) the consciousness of B and C. Like Picture-in-Picture, but with orders of magnitude more data.

In both cases you’ve shown, as best you can, that there are other minds — and that one of them is a computer. If that doesn’t satisfy you, then nothing short of a revelation by God would probably do it.




Msyjsm Jul 30th, 2007 at 12:53 am



Katja Oct 21st, 2007 at 11:36 am

You assume that the consciousness is inherant in, and transferred with, a thought. Without being certain of the mechanics of consciousness this seems rather presumptious - there is the possibility that patterns of information such as thoughts can occur with or without associated consciousness (i.e. consciousness is attached to who/whatever is ‘running’ the bitstring - if it isn’t conscious the information just runs unconsciously through it). If the bitstring holds consciousness, and you wrote it down on a(big) piece of paper would there be consciousness? If not the presence of consciousness seems to depend how the information is ‘run’. Perhaps the computer data would be conscious when run in you, but not in it.
I’d hardly believe a revelation from God - I’ve no reason to think he’s conscious, so he probably doesnt know what he’s talking about.