Articles for August 2017

Touring Test

“Are there imaginable digital computers which would do well in the imitation game?” —A.M.T.

There are moments where you discover the limits of language.

I can feel the slip in my palms when thinking of Jen walking down our wedding aisle. The exact temperature in the room when my three children were born. Their puffy little faces. The rub of my uniform’s collar as I graduated the US Naval Academy and the earnest eyes of my crew as I took command of an American warship.

Photo Cred: http://www.gardenofgods.com/your-visit/visit2/gallery

Among these moments was a weekend spent in Colorado where I stood among mountains. Garden of the Gods, Colorado was not my first walk in nature but, unlike the familiar hills of the mid-Atlantic, I felt an unfamiliar smallness.

I felt, in a moment, the land’s perfect nurture and complete ambivalence. I discovered something not made for my use, but from which I was made. If you haven’t yet felt this (and you’re human), it waits for you in a National Park.

I’ve been reminded of this feeling a lot lately. If you’re brave enough to keep up with the news, you’ve heard an indecipherable debate simmering over advancements in what we’re calling Artificial Intelligence (AI). My day-job has kept me close to this conversation and its many, very recent, quantum leaps.

Just a few years ago, the prospect of a computer beating a human being at a game of chess would have been laughable. Beating a human being at a game of Jeopardy, lunacy. A game of Go, patently delusional. But as sure as sunrise and set, the barriers are falling. Falling faster than our ability to wrestle with the many implications.

A race is on. As meaningful and far-reaching as the development of nuclear power or landing humanity on the moon. We’re surrounded by a revolution we can’t quite touch. We’ve invited AI and Machine Learning into our lives like a stranger we’ve never met. And from your Google search for this article, to what medicine you get for your cold, to the movie Netflix is recommending you watch, AI is becoming a fast friend. One you didn’t know you had or even needed.

The discoveries or “accidents” which have led to our recent advances, once thought generations away, are happening in real time and with greater frequency. I use the word “happening” purposefully.

Scientists and technologists as renowned as Stephen Hawking and Elon Musk offer cautious warnings over what continued development means for the fate of humanity. These warnings come as scientists and engineers toil in search of what Pedro Domingos calls “The Master Algorithm.” A self-learning program. A program with an intelligence indistinguishable from or superior to that of a human being.

As one “impossibility” collapses after another, how will we know when we’ve achieved this indistinguishable intelligence? In scientific circles, they call it The Turing Test.

The Turing Test was developed by a man named Alan Turing. Just over 65 years old, the test doesn’t measure a machine’s intelligence, but rather our ability to sense whether we’re communicating with a machine. Our ability to determine through its language, whether we’re communicating with man or robot.

Seems like science fiction. Like a good Will Smith movie. Truth is, it’s not so far away. In fact, THIS…what you’re reading right now…could have very easily been generated by an AI algorithm.

But I think there’s something more. Something at the limits of language which help you to know me as a person, and for me to know you.

No matter the number of little white and green Google Map cars I see driving along places like Rocky Mountain National Park; I’ve yet to see one find its way up Trail Ridge Road and feel spiritually compelled to pull-over to admire the grazing elk of the Kawuneeche Valley. When it does, and only then, will it have found our humanity. An ecological, connected humanity. A oneness found in a park. Perhaps we’ll call it the “Touring Test.”

 

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