Beyond the Turing Test

Sep 7, 2017

Outing A.I.: Beyond the Turing Test’ is an interesting article published 2015 by sociologist and design researcher Benjamin Bratton. He argues that in the popular debates about the threats and benefits of AI artificial intelligences are often wrongly portrayed as humanlike entities:

[...] these debates may be missing the real point of what it means to live and think with forms of synthetic intelligence very different from our own.
That point, in short, is that a mature A.I. is not necessarily a humanlike intelligence, or one that is at our disposal. If we look for A.I. in the wrong ways, it may emerge in forms that are needlessly difficult to recognize, amplifying its risks and retarding its benefits.

(Hence the title of the article, suggesting that an AI passing the Touring Test is not the turning point we should be on the lookout for.)

But how does one think differently? How to conceptualize an intelligence radically different from our own?

Projects come to my mind that try to leave the human perspective behind in favor for looking at the world as a non-human. In Goat Man artist Thomas Thwaites “tried to become a goat to escape the angst inherent in being a human”. YouTube offers a plethora of videos demonstrating how animals see the world, etc. And although I am not a knowledgeable science fiction reader, this literary genre too offers a wide range of examples.

However, thinking about these examples, my impression is that trying to take a non-human perspective often resorts to narrowing our perception or, at best, slightly amplifying certain senses. But in the context of artificial intelligence and the possibility of emerging superintelligences this approach is insufficient.

If a superintelligence is cognitively far more advanced than any human can possibly imagine, how could we at all be able to conceptualize these intelligences in order to invent, detect, support, or subvert them? It is hard to narrow our perception, but it might be impossible to widen it beyond the edges of what can be human.

I wrote this text in response to one of my classes at Parsons, called Design For This Century. It deals with the underlying questions of being a designer in the unfolding century, especially in relation to social, political, cultural, and material domains.