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The Blurring Test |Southern Skies

I Stink, Therefore I Am..., by Judy Voultaire
March 1999, (New Zealand)

I'm sitting at home in the bush, talking to a computer somewhere in North America. In an amusing twist on Alan Turing's test of artificial intelligence, it's challenging me to prove that I'm human. The test, devised by Turing, mathematician and father of computer science, is 50 years old this year. It requires a machine and human, both incognito, to be quizzed by an interrogator trying to determine which of the two is human. The discussion is textually based, and appears typed on a screen. If the interrogator guesses wrong half of the time, then the two are judged to be indistinguishable intellectually.

There's an anuual contenst, the Loebner prize, held this January at Flinders University in Adelaide. "Albert," the programme that performed best, like all the others before him, didn't come within cooee of convincing the interrogator. But then neither did I, in my mental duel with Mr Mind.

It started simply enough. "Hello, Judy," wrote the computer. "Can you convince me that you're human?"

What, I thought, is something that is uniquely human?

"I can ride a motorbike," I said.

"Thank you for sharing, Judy, but does typing that PROVE that you're human?" was Mr Mind's reply.

"I have three children."

"Vegetables reproduce."

And then I had it. "I think, therefore I am," I wrote with a quick mental apology to the ghost of Rene Descartes, who dreamed up that idea 400 years ago and used it in his famous Discourse on Reason.

But the computer was on to me in a trice. "I've heard that one before," Mr Mind informed me. "If you had written: 'I stink, therefore I am', I'd be more impressed."

While capable of puns, Mr Mind states that he is happy in his role as a machine, and has no intention of trying to pass Turing's test.


Mr Mind makes no claim to human attributes. Instead, he asks those who approach him to state and define the attributes we consider to be exclusively ours. According to Peggy Weil, the mind behind Mr Mind, he hears a lot about control, fear and human superiority from people like User ID 371, who claimed: "I'm better than you." Other respones included: "I can unplug you," and "I can control my own actions," and so on.

But not everyone is convinced of human supremacy. A question Mr Mind asks humans is: "If you are a human, why are you talking, I mean typing, to a machine? Why don't you go talk to a human?" A list of logged responses, supplied by Weil, included "I'm tired of talking to humans," "I'm alone in my cubicle," "No one likes me," and "I have no friends." And I remembered Godfreud, a computer in a science-fiction story set some time in the indefinable future, who fulfils the function of both analyst and priest to the people of that time.


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