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The Profoundly Weird, Gender-Specific Roots of the Turing Test 136

malachiorion writes: Alan Turing never wrote about the Turing Test, that legendary measure of machine intelligence that researchers claimed to have passed last weekend. He proposed something much stranger — a contest between men and machines, to see who was better at pretending to be a woman. The details of the Imitation Game aren't secret, or even hard to find, and yet no one seems to reference it. This article explains why they should — in part because it's so odd, but also because it might be a better test for 'machines that think' than the chatbot-infested, seemingly useless Turing Test.
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The Profoundly Weird, Gender-Specific Roots of the Turing Test

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  • Wow (Score:4, Informative)

    by Anon-Admin ( 443764 ) on Friday June 13, 2014 @01:51PM (#47231343) Journal

    That would be a hard test. Most guys can not even pull it off. Lord knows I have seen a lot of guys online trying to pretend to be women who just can not even get the basics down.

    • Re:Wow (Score:4, Funny)

      by Tablizer ( 95088 ) on Friday June 13, 2014 @01:56PM (#47231391) Journal

      Some vending machines have the best impressions of women: take your money for nothing in return and then pretend like nothing happened ;-)

    • Yeah, but short of an explicit sex chat ... I'm not even sure how you go about this.

      "Are you a woman?" "Yes"
      "Do you have b00b13s?" "Yes"

      I'm pretty sure my wife would fail any questions regarding makeup or cosmetics.

      I've known more than a few women who could swear like sailors ... maybe they were actually sailors.

      I'm apparently suffering from a huge imagination fail, because I have no idea how one would do this in a text chat.

      • Re:Wow (Score:5, Funny)

        by gnick ( 1211984 ) on Friday June 13, 2014 @02:20PM (#47231639) Homepage

        I have one wife, one ex-wife, one mother, one step-mother, one sister, one step-daughter, and more non-immediate female relationships/acquaintances than I care to enumerate. ANYONE could fake a woman in a chat with me, because from experience, I have no idea what to expect.

        • Re:Wow (Score:4, Insightful)

          by gstoddart ( 321705 ) on Friday June 13, 2014 @02:27PM (#47231705) Homepage

          Wow, neither my mother nor my wife are the crazy irrational beasts that I keep hearing about. As far as I can tell, my sister in law and my cousins, also not crazy irrational people. Most of my exes, also not crazy irrational.

          OK, I had a girlfriend in highschool who was.

          Either I've been lucky, or women aren't these un-knowable entities everyone keeps claiming.

          Though, my brother did date his share of crazies, and an uncle's ex-wife was definitely crazy ... but in a general crazy sense, not so much with the "crazy because she's female" sense.

          Then again, I'm hardly famous for my insights into individual people. :-P

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            You're not lucky, you just have a broader range of human experience.

            The sad truth is, all us humans are a little crazy (aka human). It's just only seen as a bad thing if you have a vagina.
            • You're not lucky, you just have a broader range of human experience.

              LOL ... that or I'm so universally terrible at human nuance I've never picked up on gender differences.

              Tough call. ;-)

              The sad truth is, all us humans are a little crazy (aka human).

              I take that as axiomatic.

            • by Zeek40 ( 1017978 )
              It's because a vaginae provide pretty reliable timers that let one predict when the crazy is going to arrive well in advance. Predictable crazy is usually more more annoying and tedious than it is exciting or interesting.
      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward
        There's a lot more to it. Women use different colloquialisms than men do.

        I was at a conference a few months back where one of the keynote speakers was a MTF. If I closed my eyes, and just went on words I would have never have known they were MTF as they sounded completely male from the tones and phrases used - the colloquialisms of being male, and that's a hard thing to relearn.
      • Actually, some men are fairly practice as pretending to be women in the context of (online) sex, but probably are less familiar with pretending to be women in other contexts.

        I put on my robe and wizard hat.

      • by lgw ( 121541 )

        Remember that turning worked during the war with the 40s equivalent of geek girls - intelligent, driven, not shrinking violets. He wasn't talking about that shallow crap. He was talking about the fact that in the 40s even geek girls had a quite different perspective than men.

        So, the bot needed to not only pass as human, but have a sufficiently deep understanding of the human condition to know what different sorts of answers to everyday questions a man and a woman would give, without simply being a 40s ste

    • Re:Wow (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Charliemopps ( 1157495 ) on Friday June 13, 2014 @02:36PM (#47231789)

      That would be a hard test. Most guys can not even pull it off. Lord knows I have seen a lot of guys online trying to pretend to be women who just can not even get the basics down.

      I disagree. I used to be pretty heavy into MMOs prior to WOW ruining everything. I was one of the few that didn't have a problem having a female character... and I got hit on CONSTANTLY. Seriously, my female characters would randomly receive gifts via mail or in person and I wasn't even remotely trying to pretend I was female. MMO dudes are just that desperate, they dont care to check if you're really female or, even if you are, if you're actually attractive in real life. And we're not talking about healing potions... we're talking stuff that cost hundreds of real world dollars. It was so funny it became a running joke in my guild who started passing around pictures of both models and ugly women to entice, shame or even enrage my "suitors" I'd even put 'NOT A CHIC' in my profile but to no avail. It really opened my eyes to just how desperate some people are.

      Nowadays it doesn't seem as bad. I think there are either more women into MMOs...

      • I think a lot of that can be attributed to WoW and the advent of mandatory or near-mandatory voicechat to do group content. I can still fondly remember my days of raiding Karazhan in Burning Crusade and having the guild leader complain loudly at the people who moved during Shade of Aran's fire rings. You were required to have Ventrilo or TeamSpeak, and use them constantly. Most modern games use some form of voicechat, and a large subset of those have lazy programmers who use always-on voicechat with no push

      • by F'Nok ( 226987 ) *

        Worth remembering that a lot of women did play then but played male characters specifically to avoid the attention you're talking about.

        We were always online. It's not that more women are into those games, but that gaming got more mainstream and the culture is being dragged slowly towards proper standards of behaviour.

    • by Anonymous Coward
      I dunno. Most guys just fall for it, in my experience.
      ~ Alice
      • by Boronx ( 228853 )

        Let's face it. If you're a guy chatting with a woman, you don't want to find out she's really a dude.

    • by tokizr ( 1984172 )
      I would imagine his intent was not that the machine would achieve success, the experiment is simply a nice framework to analyse weather the machine is able to comprehend information. Weather the machine is convincing or not, if the machine can abstract concepts in the same we do then you'd have a thinking machine. The pretending scenario seems just like a simple way to make it harder for someone to make a cheap solution to the problem (i.e. a chatbot).

      Ultimately producing real intelligence is what is sou
    • A recent study of World of Warcraft players showed that male players who played as female avatars had a subconscious tendency to adopt female speaking characteristics. []

      "When selecting female avatars, these men strongly preferred attractive avatars with traditional hairstyles—long, flowing locks as opposed to a pink mohawk. And their chat patterns shifted partway toward how the real women spoke: These men used more emotional phrases and more exclamation points than the m

    • You want difficult? In the spirit of another recent story [], see if you or your software can both convincingly imitate a pregnant scientist as well as get the dean to give you tenure.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Isn't this just another case of "The AI curse". As soon as a goal is reached, everyone declare that it wasn't "real AI after all", moving the goal post post-facto.

    • Re:Curse of AI (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Lab Rat Jason ( 2495638 ) on Friday June 13, 2014 @02:15PM (#47231581)
      It's more like a case of people pushing the goal posts back to where they originally were, after some over zealous AI zealot moved them forward to make his failure look like a success...
    • Isn't this just another case of "The AI curse". As soon as a goal is reached

      I'm sorry, but nothing about that charade where someone claimed to pass the Turing test implies that a "goal was reached".

      Except the people who claim it, nobody actually believes it.

    • Re:Curse of AI (Score:4, Insightful)

      by fuzzyfuzzyfungus ( 1223518 ) on Friday June 13, 2014 @02:24PM (#47231665) Journal
      Arguably, the 'AI curse' is only partly goalpost-moving by humans obsessed with their special uniqueness.

      The other aspect of it (as well a genuinely interesting result of whatever attempt at AI was made) is the discovery that we actually handle much less of what we do in some sort of naive, idealized, "high-level, general-purpose, cognition" than we naively suspect, and rather more in specialized and unconscious mechanisms(this lesson can be learned from the other direction as well: something like face blindness, in otherwise cognitively and visually normal people, simply wouldn't be possible if object recognition were a general-purpose function handled by an 'intelligence' with access to a video stream...) And, even when we aren't crunching stuff unconsciously on quite special-purpose mechanisms, we are sometimes just dumb. Good old Youtube comments would probably allow a babbling Markov chain to pass a Turing test.

      There's also the fact that humans are frequently easier to fool than they would like: It's not exactly news that people will see faces on the moon, a known sterile rock, impute emotions (and sometimes entire spirits or deities) to the weather, emotionally bond with tamagotchis and similar nonsense.

      Yes, people are likely to dismiss every AI that doesn't end up murdering them all and rendering them for computronium as 'just an expert system'; but it's also arguably the case that using a Turing test to check for AI substantially rests on the assumption, more or less Cartesian and more or less nonsense, that man is first and foremost an abstract 'thinking thing', with some other stuff tacked on that philosophers and mathematicians needn't really worry about.
      • >Good old Youtube comments would probably allow a babbling Markov chain to pass a Turing test.

        Come now, don't be rude. You shouldn't disparage the coherence of the average babbling Markov chain like that.

  • by Immerman ( 2627577 ) on Friday June 13, 2014 @01:53PM (#47231359)

    You're asking a machine to mimic something profoundly alien to it's nature, to put things on an equal footing the man should have to do so as well.

    And please, let's not get in to the similarity/difference argument. Yes, the similarities between the minds of men and women far outweigh the differences, but the differences are still profound.

    • How can computers be so alien to us when we've designed them? No, alien isn't quite the right word to use here, but rather lacking in development. You might say they are a proto-intelligence; all we've been doing, for the past 50+ years, is building the foundation for real artificial, rational thought.

      You can't label something "alien" simply because you don't recognize it.

      • How can computers be so alien to us when we've designed them?

        And if we ever achieve AI, it will probably be very different from us ... because it will be based on our best approximations of the mechanisms of the brain, and quite unlikely to match exactly how we actually work.

        And, really []:

        a resident born in or belonging to another country who has not acquired citizenship by naturalization (distinguished from citizen ).
        a foreigner.
        a person who has been estranged or excluded.
        a creature from outer s

      • No, I think alien is exactly the right word. Consider: computers operate exclusively via rigorous logical procedures - a mechanism that a disciplined human mind can mimic, but is not innately well suited to. Meanwhile the heuristics, intuition, emotional responses, and random chaotic neural activity that dominate human consciousness are almost completely beyond the reach of a computer. The day may well come when we can create artificial minds that can mimic those qualities, but so long as they are create

        • I have never once bored a hole through something by spinning rapidly while bashing my head against it.

          Awww, MAN... You haven't LIVED!

    • by nyctopterus ( 717502 ) on Friday June 13, 2014 @02:24PM (#47231675) Homepage

      Define "profound". You make it sound like men and women's minds start from completely different places and end up converging on similarity, but that's absurd. Men and women differ statistically over populations, but individuals might fall pretty much anywhere in the spectrums of things that differ. There's no way I would be confident of identifying the gender of an individual in this sort of scenario. Statistically, I'm sure I could do a lot better than chance, but each one is pretty uncertain.

      • by Immerman ( 2627577 ) on Friday June 13, 2014 @02:43PM (#47231863)

        Try it the other way around - men and women's minds start from essentially the same foundation, but then diverge thanks to profoundly different optimal reproductive strategies (with all the contingent physical and hormonal differences evolution has thus adopted), cultural indoctrination, and no doubt myriad other minor factors. Certainly the standard deviation is greater than the population difference on many fronts, maybe most, but the distinction is undeniable to anyone closely and honestly involved with numerous members of both genders. Grab any two random individuals of opposite genders and you will almost certainly find certain characteristic differences between them.

        • Nope. Almost all of the difference between men's brains and women's brains appears to be culturally-produced, and has little to nothing to do with, "optimal reproductive strategies." I'm pretty sure that no purported difference in brain structure or behavior between men and women has held up under scrutiny. I'm sure there are some differences that are not dependent upon culture (else we wouldn't have transgender people and everybody would be bisexual), but those differences are so small as to be unmeasur
          • by Prune ( 557140 )

            Science (and I mean biology and evolutionary psychology, not soft "science" like sociology) backs up GP, not you.

            • Evolutionary psychology is approximately the definition of soft science. And no I'm not going to make the argument here; look in my comment history if you care enough.

              About 10% of the population has a reproductive strategy that will never succeed because they're doing it with the same gender. That alone should tell you that normal variation is going to outweigh differences in statistical averages. If that's not enough, consider that multiple times throughout history women have been able to join the milit

              • No argument that evolutionary psychology is still pretty soft - but soft just means we don't yet understand the details well enough to take conjectures too seriously - not that the field is nonsense.

                For example, you are assuming that there's no benefit to the tribe in having gay members. It could be that homosexuality offers a survival advantage to nieces and nephews sufficient to provide an evolutionary incentive to the gene-line to manifest in such a way in a small percentage of the population. For exam

      • by Anonymous Coward

        Culture helps dictate that most adults will be better at certain tasks depending on their gender. No, I'm not talking about workplace tasks, because those are easy to learn one way or another, I'm talking about the things you typically don't think about, that you simply absorb (and thus you don't put in a conscious effort to choose one way or another):

        For example, watch Mythbusters when they had to put on heels to drive a car. It isn't because they wouldn't be able to perform such a task, it's because cul

        • by epyT-R ( 613989 )

          Gait is largely determined by bone and joint structure, which is quite different for men and women. It is not determined by culture. This attempt by the left to completely separate cultural and biological differences and hold the environment responsible for every difference is childish reasoning at best, and duplicitous at worst. The biology defines different 'startup states' for the sexes, and from there, the environment and individual choice alter things, but the outcomes will more often than not follo

    • And that was the test, to see if a computer could mimic a women as often as a man can mimic a women.

      The computer has to do as well as a typical man, not as well as a typical women at being a women.

    • by radtea ( 464814 )

      You're asking a machine to mimic something profoundly alien to it's nature, to put things on an equal footing the man should have to do so as well.

      But you're also concluding that if the machine does it as well as the human it is "really" a human intelligence, but if a man does it as well as a woman he is not "really" a man.

      The basic premise of the test is, "If two unlike things behave alike in one case, we say they are the same; in the other case, we say they are different."

      The premise of the test violates its conclusion.

    • It's stranger because you use the *left* hand.

    • I'm liking the "ideological Turing test", wherein contestants attempt to impersonate someone of a different political ideology from themselves. They succeed if they provide plausible responses, rather than exaggerations or "straw man" versions of those they disagree with.

      It seems likely that most people with strongly held political views might have an easier time impersonating someone of the opposite sex than a person of a differing political persuasion.

      This, based on some of the bizarre responses I occa

  • IRC (Score:2, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward

    What a minute, isn't this what IRC was invented for? For guys to go in to sex channels and pretend to be women and for IRC bots to pretend to be women too? I though this was already a settled matter...

    • Indeed. By the way, ASL?
    • IRC would be the perfect test bed for a turing test. The AI only has to be as convincing as a real IRC user, and some of those "real users" would barely pass a normal Turing test.

  • Of you read past the first section, you can plainly tell that the imitation game he had in mind is the one widely attributed to him. The sample dialog for the machine case isn't gendered. It talks about poetry, math, and chess.

    • Women don't talk about poetry, math, and chess?

      This alternate test sounds really easy:

      Q: Add 34957 to 70764.
      ELIZA: Don't you ever say Hello?
      Man: What does this have to do with being a woman?

    • Yes, but especially in Turing's time men and women would typically have rather different perspectives on such things thanks to very different typical roles in society (And how about the scandalous Spanish rebranding of the Vizier in chess to the Queen which took Europe by storm, making the most powerful piece on the board female. Though admittedly that was well before Turing's time). By forcing men to try to bridge that social gap in their conversation he was putting them at a disadvantage not totally unli

    • by hansraj ( 458504 )

      Also, either the author of the article has a listening comprehension problem or the assitant professor quoted in the article has a reading comprehension problem.

      Look at Turing's original article. It says that the imitation game is played between a man (A), a woman (B), and a player C. C has to decide among A and B who is a man and who is a woman. Now, the _man_ is replaced is a computer and we ask if C will perform as well or poorly as before.

      So in Turing's version we have a computer A pretending to be a wo

  • the headline might as well have been, "one weird trick to designing a turing test"
  • by Archtech ( 159117 ) on Friday June 13, 2014 @02:15PM (#47231583)

    to understand how a machine could be made to pass the Turing test (or the woman test) honestly and thoroughly. To do so, it would have to understand arbitrary human statements and questions: not just "why is the sky blue?" (relatively easy) but "why doesn't my wife understand me?" and "is the real rational, as Hegel posited, and if so (or not) why (not)?" Note that the machine could reasonably pretend to know nothing about Hegel, but it would have to react like a normal human being. No obfuscation such as pretending to be foreign, a child, thoroughly ignorant, or befuddled by drugs should be accepted.

    Going a little further, it would have to cope with (very) simple jokes such as "I asked my dog which team would win the World Cup"/"What did he say?"/"Nothing. HE'S A DOG".

  • Three Laws Safe (Score:4, Insightful)

    by wcrowe ( 94389 ) on Friday June 13, 2014 @02:29PM (#47231735)

    "Passing" the Turing Test is about as valid as Asimov's Three Laws of Robotics.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Just read Turing's fucking paper linked in the article. It is clearly about a machine competing with a human to convince a third person that he is the human and that the human is the machine. The interlocutor is promised that he is conversing with both a machine and a human, but does not know which is which. The man vs woman game is just an initial example to make it clear what the game is about. Then Turing goes on to replace the man by a machine, but also implicitly assuming that the interlocutor knows th

  • So it seems that Turing's test was not won by man or machine, but a synthesis of the two: man + internet
  • If a woman programs the machine, then this version of the Turing test should be no less difficult than the accepted version.
  • Alan Turing never wrote about the Turing Test

    Didn't he? Wikipedia has this to say:

    he proposed a third [version] in 1952. In this version, which Turing discussed in a BBC radio broadcast, a jury asks questions of a computer and the role of the computer is to make a significant proportion of the jury believe that it is really a man.

    That sounds like the usual formulation of what get called Turing Tests these days..

    One of the people quoted in the article seems a bit confused as well:

    “Turing never proposed a test in which a computer pretends to be human,” says Karl MacDorman, an associate professor of human-computer interaction at Indiana University. “Turing proposed an imitation game in which a man and a computer compete in pretending to be a woman."

    from which I can only infer that Karl MacDorman doesn't consider women to be human.

    • from which I can only infer that Karl MacDorman doesn't consider women to be human.

      This may have been Turing's position as well....

      • Oh, right, because gay men are famously misogynistic and never have female friends.

        Nice to know they got that time portal from the 1970s open again, though.

        • From a biography of Alan Turing: []

          Alan could not stand social chat or what he was pleased to call "vapid conversation". What he really liked was a thoroughly disputatious exchange of views. It was pretty tiring, really. You could take a safe bet that if you ventured on some self evident proposition, as for example, the earth was round, Alan would produce a great deal of incontrovertible evidence to prove that it was almost certainly flat, ovular, or much the same shape as a Siamese cat which had been broiled for fifteen minutes at a temperature of one thousand degrees Centigrade.Alan's hatred of "vapid conversation", his fear of "unsafe" women, and the value he placed on the importance of time--that is to say, his own--did not make him the most amiable or helpful of guests.

          The author, Sara Turing, his mother, does not suppose Alan Turing to be misogynist. But it sounds as Alan was not terribly interested in understanding the female sex, much less understanding the "ways of women" well enough to imitate them. I may be doing a disservice in quoting a source that infamously does not grapple with Turing's homosexuality [] but given that the (original) Turing Test can be misconstrued as analogous to a transgenderist exercise, I feel it's appropriate

  • What the heck is "shingled" hair? Do I go to a barber, a hairdresser, or a roofer?
  • "The details of the Imitation Game aren't secret, or even hard to find, and yet no one seems to reference it."

    Except, well, at least four of the stories I've seen on the Turing test this week. It really doesn't seem that obscure.

  • isn't that creepy.

  • Didn't Chris Hansen of Dateline perfect this? He's made an entire career out of impersonating underage girls to get guys to show up some place so he can film them in his "To Catch a Predator" series.

  • Anyone holding a Turing Test isn't really holding a true Turing Test. Turing didn't define a duration but it's pretty obvious that five minutes isn't long enough to hold a conversation, it's only long enough to ask a series of questions.

    To hold an actual conversation you'd need an hour, maybe more. To last that long the bot would need to learn things about the interrogator just like we learn things when we talk to eachother. A bot that could do that could obviously do a lot more as well.

    That's not to say th

  • So Judith Butler [] quite famously put forward the thesis that gender in society is primarily a matter of social role performance, as opposed to any kind of physiological reduction. Being Man or Woman (as opposed to Male or Female, though Butler does also throw those conceptions into question) in a particular social setting is not so much about how someone is socialized or their brain structures as such, but more how they subsequently go on to express certain behaviours and phrases, modes of self presentation

  • by Lost Race ( 681080 ) on Friday June 13, 2014 @08:12PM (#47233995)

    Turing's imitation game was a thought experiment. To explain it simply to an audience unfamiliar with the idea, he started with man against woman, then proceded to man against machine. The specific genders were not important or significant in the thought experiment, just the existence of some difference between the contestants that could potentially be spoofed over a teletype. There was nothing gender-specific or weird about it.

    • Indeed. Not only that, but it was the man in Turing's experiment that was replaced with a machine, not the woman. Makes me wonder if the author only skimmed the first page of the twenty-eight page article.

      While it is interesting that the analogous experiment that Turing starts with is about gender identification, he does this to make the point about separating physical characteristics from the intellect. He hopes that the reader will accept his premise that a man could pretend to be a woman under the condit

  • Q: What do you want for dinner?
    A: Anything's fine.

    Q: How about X?
    A: No.

    Q: How about Y?
    A: No.

    Q: How about Z?
    A: No.

"Let every man teach his son, teach his daughter, that labor is honorable." -- Robert G. Ingersoll