The Turing Test Bias

“I am not a robot, I am a love magnet!”

In the movie Future World, sex robot Suki Waterhouse is so convincingly hot that she becomes the great love interest of both the good guy and the bad guy of the film, Jeffrey Wahlberg and James Franco respectively, and even turns the heads of two female co-stars, thereby facilitating a jealous quarrel between the duo. It soon becomes clear to the viewer, in fact, that the android has passed the Turing Test with flying and evocative colors, so much so that young hero Wahlberg even grants her a soul and instructs her in the customary acts of praying to a Christian God.

But while it may be chivalrous to grant Ash a soul, I believe in tough love when it comes to the robot tribe. We can’t be granting souls willy-nilly lest we see a rapid devaluation of that metaphysical commodity.

So here’s how it’s done, Prince (Prince, the character played by Wahlberg)… Watch and learn. I’ll show YOU how to deal with an upstart android who’s growing too big for her ontological britches — humph:

“Fine, you have a soul, Ash. Fair enough. But then so do the potentially infinite number of iterations of your cocky disposition that I could generate merely by recompiling your source code. A soul, my dear?” I’d add by way of smarmy interrogatory, determined to rain on her infinitely reproducible and no-doubt rust-prone parade: “Be so good as to leave souls to the pros, my dear: that is to say, us REAL human beings, what have been evincing the phenomena in question for at least 50,000 years.

Don’t get me wrong,” I’d add, probably running my hands through her blond hair in tacit recognition of her admittedly well-wrought anatomy: “ It’s not so much that I mind granting YOU a soul — but I refuse to make a God out of the the cheesy nail-biting nerd who probably created you in the first place: or rather he or she who cranked out your source code in the first place, probably hopped up on multiple cans of Red Bull and take-out pizza. If I’m scarcely convinced that your creator had a soul, why should I grant YOU one?”

For mark my words, dear reader (and grant them a prominent place in some future journal that will eventually thrash out these neglected philosophical issues in detail): This movie illustrates the problem with the Turing Test, namely, that it places “humanity” in the eye of the beholder. In other words, the self-same digital entity that might qualify as “human” in the minds of a dunce might manifest itself as a tiresome parlor trick in the subtler eyes of a MENSA alumnus.

Personally, the issue of Ash’s supposed humanity doesn’t even arise for me, however, since my irritating daily experience with brain-dead virtual assistants makes me despair that a robot will ever understand my most basic customer service needs, let alone know Jack Shit about plighting the appropriate troth (if you’ll pardon in turn both my French and my somewhat archaic matrimonial trope).

Here’s my typical interaction with a phone-bot:

BOT: “Hi, I am Tamala. You can speak to me like a regular person.”

At this point, I always sigh softly in consternation at the hollow boast — and you know what happens then: the clueless bot mistakes my “sigh” for a word, suddenly stopping its perky spiel and saying after the usual baffled pause: “I’m sorry, I didn’t get that.”

Of course, the fact that the robot responds to my sigh pisses me off still further, and so I mutter the word “Damn!” — and once again you know what happens: The bot responds to my oath with its all-purpose comeback of: “Sorry, I didn’t get that,” thereby pissing me off still further and causing me to utter additional oaths that my interlocutor proves equally incapable of understanding.

So where exactly are all these all-knowing robots that are supposed to be taking over the world any day now? They’re certainly not employed in the phone-tree business. But then I suppose the real problem with the Great Robot Takeover is that we humans will be forced to dumb ourselves down to the level of our brain-dead masters — and not, as is usually supposed, that our mechanical masters will prove to be infinitely smarter than we are.

So to the futurists of 21st century America, Hollywood included, I say this: First route my calls successfully at Microsoft Inc. (after their monthly updates have basically destroyed my legacy Lenovo computer) — and maybe then we’ll start talking about robots who have souls.



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Brian Quass

Brian Quass

Founder of, whose life purpose is to expose the philosophical absurdity of America's unprecedented war on substances