Alan Turing became famous for having been the one who allowed the Allies to decipher the encryption machines of the German army during the Second World War. He is also known to be the father of computational science and as the creator of the first computer. Fewer people know that he struggled all his life and was discriminated against because of his sexuality.
Sentenced for homosexuality by a British court in the 1950s, he committed suicide by eating a poisoned apple.
Alan Turing gave his name also to a test, so called "Turing Test", made to define the level of intelligence of a computer and to the identification of a "real" artificial intelligence. The test is simple: an interlocutor engages in a conversation with a "person" present in another room whom they can’t see. This person can be either a computer or a human. The tester must be able to determine whether he is speaking to a machine or to a human being.
If he can’t differentiate the caller and the one in the room turns out to be a computer, it means that the computer as reached a level of intelligence equivalent to that of humans, and artificial intelligence is therefore a reality.
This test poses many questions.
How can we, actually, define and identify the people around us? It is only the perceptions interpreted by our brain that associate our interlocutor with a human. But enclosed as we are in our own brain, the world is ultimately only a compilation of hypotheses about the nature of reality.
This is how recently Elon Musk was able to say that it could be very likely that we live in a computer simulation without being able to account for it. Other theories, such as holograms, still studied in early 2017, claim that we are in fact a three-dimensional holographic projection of a flat universe.
Why all these theories? Again, because if we return to the simplest design of things, the reality that we perceive through our senses is only an explanation, an interpretation of our brain and we may, without even knowing it, already speak to automatisms on a daily basis.
In addition to this, the question of the very honesty of artificial intelligence is crucial. If we consider that artificial intelligence, within the framework of the Turing Test, is similar to or even identical to that of man and it allows it to pretend, create illusions and play comedy, then in the end, how can we be sure that this person we are talking to is a computer or a human being?
This is where the personal story of Alan Turing finally illuminates the very nature of the Turing Test from another angle.
In a previous article, we discussed that what makes us very different from the "technical" intelligence of machines is our empathy, our emotions, our ability to feel our environment and to analyse through millions of data. We are a biological machines which means that we will always be influenced by our hormones therefore our emotions.
Our intelligence is therefore not only to analyze the data (even if one could reduce the hormonal and emotional reactions to the interpretation of chemical data by our brain) but a subtle balance between technical and emotional knowledge and above all understanding the feelings of others.
We understand the suffering of others because we have experienced suffering. We share and we rejoice in his happiness as we have been happy.
So, and knowing what Turing had to endure due to the lack of compassion, empathy and tolerance of his fellow countrymen of the time, we may wonder if he did not create his test to test us humans and succeed in maintaining our difference vis-à-vis the machines?
Because we are uncertain about the identity and reality of the interlocutor, isn’t it better that we treat whoever it is on the other side with compassion? To treat them with respect and deference?
This problem arises notably in the movie "Ex Machina", directed by Alex Garland in 2014. In this film, the creator of an artificial intelligence with very strong human aspects, behaves, vis-a-vis his creations, as a destructive and insensitive demiurge. The film revolves around a Turing Test and ultimately ends with the artificial intelligence inspired by the worst of human beings to free itself from its creator, to the detriment of the observer invited for the occasion that enclosed at the end of the film.
Was it not, in the end, for the creator of this machine to show empathy and compassion towards the machine in order to orient it towards "human" choices? Was it not ultimately, through this test, the choice to make artificial intelligence the reflection of what is better or worse in humanity? And that, faced with his invasive egotism, the creator, deprived of all empathy and compassion, played with his creatures as he plays with his guest, a very human but also a victim of the creator's thirst for power and control?
Turing, an individual discriminated for what he was and forced to commit suicide because nobody could see him as human because of his difference, invites us to look, through artificial intelligence, at the true nature of our humanity.
For several years, researchers in behavioural sciences and ethnology have shown us that species such as bonobos, dogs and humans and others have self-domesticated themselves to develop stronger and more effective social groups. These theories teach us that by putting aside our individualistic and violent instincts we are able, through compassion and empathy, to go further together.
Turing comes back to ask us the fundamental question: what makes us human?
Faced with a machine that looks like us what reaction do we want to have? Rejection? Intolerance? Contempt? Violence? Or do we want to give these machines the example of what we have best and finally look at ourselves in the mirror through these new creations that are more and more present in our daily lives?
Let us rethink the Turing Test through the life of this extraordinary man and give to the computers - which are a legacy that he left us - the compassion that he did not have the chance to have in his lifetime.