The Turing Test

2016: Romantic Comedy, a commune, and “a blue pill”

Two scientists work together to define Intelligence.
Will they finally teach their AI to
think, or will the AI teach them a few things?


“Maybe we are going about it wrong.”

Lana shot Doug a quizzical look, encouraging him to continue.

“Humanity overall is a eusocial collective. We tend to create similar structures.” He waved an arm at the other occupants of the dining room. “The Shortliffe Foundation itself is a good example – specialized roles, division of labor, all serving the single purpose of developing true Artificial Intelligence. We tend to define success based on those structures.”

“So the fact that the Foundation lets us live and work in their little science-commune somehow limits Mike’s potential?” Lana scowled.

“Well, you did suggest that the fallacy of the Turing Test was that success was based on interaction with humans…”

“Well… Many human geniuses are unable to interact well with less intelligent minds.” Lana spoke slowly, staring vaguely over the biologist’s shoulder as she considered the idea. Doug examined her eyes, picking out each fleck of color in the iris as though he didn’t already know them by heart.

“So what do you propose?” The computer scientist’s emerald eyes refocused, looking directly into Doug’s. He gazed back at her, heart racing, then remembered that she was waiting for a reply.

“The point is to create a rational agent that can perceive its environment and act to maximize success, right? So,” he leaned closer, lowering his voice. “How do we define success, Lana?”

He reached out to touch her arm, but before he could make contact Lana was on her feet, striding purposefully toward the door.


“Mike is not an ant farm!”

Doug couldn’t help smiling. Lana took affront whenever he compared the Mycroft AI to any living organism but humans.

“And we are not chimpanzees – but we have a lot in common.”

Lana couldn’t stay offended when he smiled at her like that. Heck, she couldn’t think when he smiled at her like that.

“An ant colony,” Doug continued, “is a ‘complex adaptive system’ – a network, with independent agents working in parallel. One ant finds food…” He opened a port and dropped fragments of his potato chips into the habitat, and a worker ant scurried to investigate them. “He communicates its location to others, and a work party is created to retrieve it.” He pointed to the line of ants already headed toward the crumbs.

“Adaptive behavior, based on interactions with other agents. Mike does that. He learns from his interactions.”

“Mycroft is a learning machine, but not an adaptive one. The ability for his learning mechanism itself to adapt – what we call practopoiesis – is still absent.”

“And lowering his intelligence will achieve that how, exactly? I mean, no matter how smart a dolphin is, its intelligence is still sub-human. It doesn’t engage in…philosophy, for example.” On the other hand, even animals know when it’s mating season…

“Dogs, apes, crickets, parrots can all demonstrably think in the abstract. Without a common language, how can you be certain they don’t philosophize?”

“Categorizing plants or animals from a picture isn’t intelligence; it’s an evolutionary skill to recognize potential threats. Acting on conceptual data – scientific research, for example – is what distinguishes the human mind.”

Doug did that thing he always did – licking his bottom lip and letting his tongue rest there just long enough to derail Lana’s thoughts. She took an involuntary step closer to him, wondering what would happen if she were to act on the concept currently occupying her mind. At the same moment, he stepped away to get something from his desk. Sometimes, even with a common language, intelligent creatures can’t perceive the abstract thoughts of others.

Doug held up a stone paperweight. “Capuchins use rocks to crush nuts and dig. Gorillas use sticks to test water depth when wading. Chimpanzees make tools to fish for termites. Humans didn’t start out human. They started out as animals and grew into it. Maybe your computer has to start small, too, and evolve.”

Lana didn’t agree, exactly, but Doug could be pretty irresistible. Ultimately, the goal was to bring Mike to – or beyond! – the level of human intelligence. But maybe Doug had a point about starting small…

Doug could sense her wavering. He took a step closer, trying to draw her in.

“Evolution is a primary tenet of species growth.” Evolution and reproduction, he thought, trying not to stare down the front of Lana’s blouse.

Lana gazed back at him for a moment, then abruptly turned to leave.

“Take your Dytan. You’ve been in the meerkat area again. Your eyes and nose are red.” But if I had stood there for much longer, I’d have kissed you anyway, she thought as she fled to her computer terminal.

Doug stared appreciatively at Lana’s retreating backside as he retrieved a blue allergy pill from a container on the lab table.



Lana’s smile was triumphant. They had introduced a strange baboon into the habitat, and would be testing Mike’s ability to interpret the behavior of the troop as well as the newcomer.

Doug smiled back at her, nodding his assent.

“OK. Mike, examine the creatures present, and assess the potential for successful integration.” She touched Doug on the shoulder and they both turned to watch the baboons as Mike began to speak.

“Failure to recognize core indicators. Predicted outcome: failure to successfully secure mating rights.”

Lana watched with dismay as the female baboons enthusiastically welcomed the newcomer.

“Mike, how did you determine that the baboon would fail?”

“Please restate the inquiry.”

“Describe observed indicators and outline the logic supporting your assessment.”

“Both specimens display increased heart rate concurrent with physical proximity, unnecessary minor physical contact, and excessive eye contact consistent with pre-mating or invitational behaviors. Neither specimen displays recognition or direct response.”

Both…? Lana sheepishly removed her hand from Doug’s shoulder. Humiliated by my own invention. When Doug turned her to face him, she couldn’t meet his eyes. She didn’t need to. As Doug’s mouth closed on hers, she heard Mike’s voice faintly in the background.

“Reassessing. Mating rights successfully secured.”


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