The Turing Test is part of the vocabulary of popular culture--it has
appeared in works ranging from the Broadway play "Breaking the Code" to the
comic strip "Robotman." The writings collected by Stuart Shieber for this
book examine the profound philosophical issues surrounding the Turing Test
as a criterion for intelligence. Alan Turing's idea, originally expressed
in a 1950 paper titled "Computing Machinery and Intelligence" and published
in the journal Mind, proposed an "indistinguishability test" that compared
artifact and person. Following Descartes' dictum that it is the ability to
speak that distinguishes human from beast, Turing proposed to test whether
machine and person were indistinguishable in regard to verbal ability. He
was not, as is often assumed, answering the question "Can machines think?"
but proposing a more concrete way to ask it. Turing's proposed thought
experiment encapsulates the issues that the writings in The Turing Test
define and discuss.
The first section of the book contains writings by philosophical
precursors, including Descartes, who first proposed the idea of
indistinguishablity tests. The second section contains all of Turing's
writings on the Turing test, including not only the Mind paper but also
less familiar ephemeral material. The final section opens with responses to
Turing's paper published in Mind soon after the paper first appeared. The
bulk of this section, however, consists of papers from a broad spectrum of
scholars in the field that directly address the issue of the Turing test as
a test for intelligence. Contributors include John R. Searle, Ned Block,
Daniel C. Dennett, and Noam Chomsky (in a previously unpublished paper).
Each chapter is introduced by background material that can also be read as
a self-contained essay on the Turing Test.
Stuart Shieber is Harvard College Professor and James O. Welch, Jr. and
Virginia B. Welch Professor of Computer Science, Division of Engineering
and Applied Sciences, at Harvard University.