329: Turing Test
Title text: Hit Turing right in the test-tees
In brief, a Turing test is a test for assessing whether a machine/program demonstrates "intelligent" behaviour. Suggested by Alan Turing, the test involves a human examiner talking through a computer terminal to either a human or a computer -- which it is, is not known to the examiner. If the machine/program's responses convince the examiner that he/she is talking to a human, the machine/program is said to be passing the test. This comic suggests that extra credit should be awarded if the machine/program is capable of "counter-convincing" the examiner that he's actually a computer.
The most common implementation of a Turing test Internet users may see is the CAPTCHA (Completely Automated Program to Tell Computers and Humans Apart), which is often found on web site registration pages and usually involves trying to identify letters/numbers in an image. The text in the image is often distorted and/or in different colors or sizes or fonts, or may be very blurry as if from a very bad photocopy. This is to deter an automated OCR (Optical Character Recognition) program from easily identifying the characters. The idea is that humans can process and decipher things from highly distorted pictures much easier than (current) computer algorithms can.
The caption makes a play on words, in that extra credit (optional additional work to perform) is sometimes offered on curricular examinations ("tests") to allow the taker to increase his or her total score by demonstrating a heightened understanding of the subject, but the Turing test is not such a test. (This misapplication of vernacular associated with academic testing to a non-academic procedure that also bears the name test is a common vehicle of humor, as in "what if I take a blood test, and don't pass?" One may pass or fail an academic exam, but a blood test only identifies blood type, and the concept of passing or failing is not applicable.)
Similarly, the title text makes a play on words with "test-tees" vs testes suggesting that such extra credit would be an ironic twist to Turing test. (Hitting or kicking an adversary in the testes is considered dirty fighting.) This play on words is actually itself a form of aural CAPTCHA; humans can processes and recognize puns for what they are, but machines generally run afoul of the ambiguity.
A person with an appreciation for macabre humor will note that actually hitting Alan Turing in the testes would be rendered somewhat ineffectual by the fact that the British government chemically castrated him after he was convicted of "gross indecency" (Victorian-era code for homosexual acts between men) under the Labouchere Amendment in 1952. Whether or not this was intended by Randall is uncertain.
- Turing test extra credit:
- Convince the examiner that he's a computer.
- Cueball: You know, you make some really good points.
- Cueball: I'm... not even sure who I am anymore.
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