Alan Turing:
I plan some day, if it proves possible and plans do not change, to make the program that is featured on this site available on the site.  Until that time, you cannot be blamed for thinking that there is no such program.  Why I should go to such length to say there is, I have no idea.  But you might be thinking of something.  You can stop wondering if I do post the program.  When I do, you might still ask whether the program is actually doing what I say it does.  All I can say to that is that the source code of a program is useful for making changes and correcting errors, but the real test is to run the program and see if it gives answers we know to be correct, which it does.  But then you could ask whether the DNA that makes up our genetic information could actually be doing the same thing.  It could.  Nay, it is. 

In the 20th century the world of computing was blessed with an authentic genius named Alan Turing.  He had the remarkable virtue of making sense both to experts and to ordinary people.  We of no particular special training can understand the Turing Test and the Turing machine. 

The Turing Test is not relevant to our current issue, but it is rather interesting.  The test is whether a computer is conscious, whether it has the same sort of awareness of itself and the world that a human does.  The test is very simple.  Imagine sitting down at a console with a screen and keyboard and being told it is connected either to a computer or to another person.  Your task is to decide which it is.

It is assumed that the human is not being coy.  He or she could easily respond to whatever overture you made, such as “Hello” with the sentence, “Hello is not a command,” or whatever else you said, “is not a command.”  You might well conclude that either it was a very crummy program or a very annoying person but you could not tell which.  That does not mean the computer passed the test.  The human is assumed to be willing, nay eager, for you to recognize their humanity.  The chat could include childhood experiences, current events and religious beliefs.  If at the end of the day you could not tell a cooperative counterpart from a computer, then the computer would have to be assumed to be alive.

Also active in the 20th century was a genius whom I knew.  He was never famous, but he was also very interested in computers and artificial intelligence.  He was a daring, wide ranging thinker.  Unlike myself, he was willing to consider the possibility of extra-sensory perception.  I don’t mind talking about such things but only for fun.  He proposed once that since we did not in fact know what consciousness was, extra-sensory perception might simply be a by product of thinking.  In that case, once we built a truly thinking computer, it might simply speak to us by mental telepathy. 

I would go so far as to say that there could be by products of thought.  My mother considered all spooky subjects as being unfit for polite conversation.  It was as if your body in a healthy state produces things that are not useful and are generally flushed down toilets.  These things are not mentioned in polite company.  The same with  ghosts.  The subject just is not attractive.  (The other side of the family has always loved ghost stories.)

The Turing Test was well regarded, and although no serious program has so defied us, would gain interest today.  It is as if a lot of us really wanted these contraptions to be able to keep us true company.

The trouble with the Turing Test is that it can also be applied to animals.  For many years when making a machine that could pass the Turing Test was regarded as a marvelous goal, animals were considered robots.  They had no sense of self or sense that they were not alone in the universe.  They had no “theory of consciousness” that considered other animals or us to be conscious.  One can only think that this notion of animals had to be believed on only by people who had never actually spent any time with an animal.  Radiology finally came to the rescue.  I don’t think this very experiment was done, but the equivalent was.  You make a movie of a monkey being whacked on the paw.  Then you make another monkey watch the movie while you scan its brain.  At the time of the whack, the paw pain centers in the brain of the monkey watching the movie light up.  Oh well, you can’t win them all.  So while monkeys obviously were always able to pass the Turing Test since they were actually conscious, they were never given the credit that a machine supposedly would have received for doing the same thing.

Somebody didn’t want those monkeys to be thinking.

The Turing Machine, on the other hand, takes an approach that seems to me to indicate that a computer can never be conscious.  The Turing Machine is an imaginary device that consists of an endless tape, a device that can make a mark on the tape and a device that can read the marks.  Turing proved, how I know not, that this device could perform any computation that any computer could ever make.  That actually also includes quantum computers if they can actually be built.  A quantum computer would be able to consider all possible answers to a question simultaneously and choose the unique right answer that would be read out.  But it could not actually come up with answers that a normal computer was incapable of.

So now we know what a computer does.  It makes copies.  That is all.  When you give it an arithmetic problem, it does not do the arithmetic.  It just looks the answer up in a table and copies it.  When you ask for a random number, it looks a number up and copies it.  When you ask it to analyze a bit of music or an image, it takes bits of what it has copied for you and compares them with an atlas of some sort or with other bits of the input.  It only reads and makes copies.

What else makes copies?  A cell or a test tube can make copies of DNA.  So if a computer program can come up with results, then DNA can come up with the identical results.  Someone has actually made a small general purpose computer that uses DNA chemistry as its mechanism. 

So it does not matter how wrong, how cunningly and deviously misleading, how deceptive or how evil my programming is.  DNA can do the same thing.  And since the results of the program correspond with reality, then DNA is doing the same thing. 

So on the day I manage to give you access to the program or the day someone you trust acknowledges that there is such a program and it performs as advertised, you must cast all doubt aside.  This is for real.

Of course, you don’t need the program at all.  The real world data sets speak for themselves.  But it is nice to be able to tie a host of different data sets together with a single mechanism.  That is science at its best.

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