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‘Can a machine think?’

May 5, 2011

You will remember from Bernard Beckett’s Genesis that the reason Adam is ‘sentenced’ to talking to Art is because the society of the time was working on developing Artificial Intelligence (AI).  The discussions between these two were part of an experiment designed to see if the artificially intelligent Art could learn, as a child might, to be more human through conversing with another.  All that stuff about the room and AI… based on some real science (in case you, like me, didn’t know)

Alan Turing is the name you want to research!

Isiah Lavender introduced me to it: he writes, “The notion that computers might one day be conferred – or spontaneously develop – self-awareness has produced many speculative explorations in machine existentialism.  The best-known theory is provided by Alan Turing in his 1950 essay ‘Computing Machinery and Intelligence.’  This essay is the foundation of modern AI research.  Turing believes that computers could perform all the operations of the human mind by creating a ‘child programme‘ and subjecting it to ‘the education process‘.  His approach to the question, ‘Can a Machine think?’ is a somewhat behavioristic position because he proposes to answer this question with a test (commonly known as Turing’s Test).  Turing’s Test essentially makes ‘passing’ for human the goal of the machine.  In regard to Turing’s essay, classicist and computer scientist Jay Bolter indicates that the paper explained ‘the meaning of the computer for our age… by promising (or threatening) to replace man, the computer is giving us a new definition of man as an ‘information processor,’ and nature, as ‘information to be processed'” (my emphasis, pp442-443 Isiah Lavender III ‘Technicity: AI and Cyborg Ethnicity in The Matrix.’ Extrapolation: Winter 2004; 45, 4: pp437-458) 

Cleverly, the way Beckett structures the narrative to hide the protagonist’s Artificial Intelligence from us until well into the novel means that Anaxamander passes Turing’s Test because she passes for human with the reader (proving Lavender’s theory in some quirky way?), even if she doesn’t survive the rules of The Republic!

Just sharing…

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