The Turing Test


In the opening lines of his paper, Computing Machinery and Intelligence, the British mathematical genius Alan Turing wrote, “I propose to consider the question, ‘Can machines think?'”. The Turing Test is a test of a machine’s ability to exhibit intelligent behaviour equivalent to, or indistinguishable from, that of a human. In other words, if the answers from a machine are answers that an observer could distinguish from those a human would give, then it has flunked the Turing Test.

Turing used the example of chess players to answer the question, “Can machines do what we (as thinking entities) can do?”. He wrote, “It is not difficult to devise a paper machine which will play a not very bad game of chess. Now get three men as subjects for the experiment. A, B and C. A and C are to be rather poor chess players, B is the operator who works the paper machine. … Two rooms are used with some arrangement for communicating moves, and a game is played between C and either A or the paper machine. C may find it quite difficult to tell which he is playing.”

In June, during the run-in to the General Election, Theresa May enormously failed the Turing Test, promoting the Guardian journalist John Crace’s nickname for her of “Maybot”, given to her on a trade mission to India in November 2016. “Whirr. Clunk. Clang. The Maybot’s eyes rotated into life,” Crace wrote , “right from the beginning of the campaign, the Maybot went into full automaton mode. She refused to take part in any TV debates and she was kept well away from the public at every opportunity. The Maybot told herself to relax and try harder to engage with her people, but she wasn’t entirely sure how to do so.” Crace was right. Tories knew it. The whole country knew it. The Maggiesque scripted address at her first Prime Minister’s questions – which gave the Conservative Party real hope – was proving itself to be mere imitation game. Her operators were consequently given the boot.

Since the deserved election disaster, Theresa May (or her new operators at least) has undertaken something of a charm offensive. One can imagine her advisers sitting around in one of those awful blue-sky-thinking sessions in one of Whitehall’s many, similar rooms, writing a list of the differences between machines and humans:

Machines don’t cry. Theresa May shed a tear at election exit poll. BBC. 13th July 2017.

Machines don’t get emotional. May met Grenfell Tower victims: Rev says PM DID show humanity. Express June 18th 2017.

Machines can’t be patriotic. May is far too British for her own good. Spectator 17th June 2017.

Machines can’t be feminist. Theresa May approves of new female Doctor Who Metro 17th July 2017

Machines don’t cough …. Let’s not go there.

I imagine this list was short. It was certainly unproductive. As, unfortunately, the country still thinks May is a robot. Let’s be frank – the nation is thinking she was fine as a prefect but is inefficacious as Head Girl.

Really, the question one should ask now is, “does May have any future as Prime Minister?” Rather, do these impossibly tricky times of Brexit negotiations, Tory rebels abusing the wafer thin working majority, a Trump Presidency, the effects of austerity, Corbyn hysteria (one hopes its peak has now passed, as the passion for pointless, expensive fidget spinners has now also died down), a dividing Europe and the podgy Rocket Man in Pyongyang all get handled better by a controllable robot than by a charismatic, colourful human? Yes, that is the real question the Tories should be asking themselves.

The Tories don’t need to panic. They have time. Certainly, they should no longer be trying to change and humanise Theresa May – there is just no point in continuing to throw all and every anti-virus at her. At least they now know she will never win a General Election, so should start planning for the next with that fact in mind.

Whirr. Clunk. Clang. Perhaps, only once Brexit is served, the PM’s P45 should be brang?