on Turing



and now … getting back to The Turing Test

lately my thoughts return, once again, to Alan Turing and the infamous Turing Test he conducted pertaining to machine intelligence, or better stated, pertaining to our human perceptions, beliefs and gullibility surrounding the technologies we create

the original goal of The Turing Test was to test ‘a machine’s ability to exhibit intelligent behavior equivalent to, or indistinguishable from, that of a human’

however, based on this goal in relation to the actual methodologies and approach used by Turing, we can see a certain strange perversion didn’t necessarily shed any direct light on or prove anything at all remotely about a machine’s ability to exhibit intelligent behavior but instead used a trick in the form of a hidden human agent cleverly disguised as the computing machine to simulate varying degrees of intelligence along the machine to human intelligence spectrum 

at this time in history we may want to re-examine how we measure for intelligence — both machine and human intelligence

our standards of human language — especially machine-mediated, near-human language of social communication through the screen — have sufficiently changed over the course of several decades

and we need to keep in mind that the standards of human language vary significantly as we examine our communications as delivered through different mediums — for instance, human language in classic literature varies tremendously from the way we text each other via SMS; email communications — in regards to content, purpose and language structure — differ from the way we converse through social media as well as the way we communicate face-to-face IRL { the TLA for ‘In Real Life’ }; and so on

what if we considered testing ‘a machine’s ability to exhibit intelligent behavior equivalent to, or indistinguishable from, that of a human’ by utilizing different forms of human communication exchange?

for instance, what if we looked at machine intelligence through the lens of humor and laughter?


could a computing machine perform a successful set of stand up comedy in front of a live, human audience? can a computing robotic device actually make us laugh through comedy? not just by delivering jokes and schtick as written and honed through a human comedy author, mind you, but by cleverly crafting its own comedic material through whatever embedded intelligence-derived writing algorithms its programmed with, and then by delivering that material live, onstage?

and — from the other perspective — can our computing technologies in 2014 detect and respond to a human-delivered set of stand-up comedy through genuine laughter?

my questions here — just to clarify — challenge our current notions of machine intelligence by proposing we conduct the testing using actual machines, not just simulations of machine intelligence

let’s not fake it to make it here when it comes to our measure of intelligence — let’s avoid any sense of a mere simulation of intelligence by leveraging the state of our technologies as they exist today, ‘as is’

unfortunately i’m not the person to actually design, develop and build the actual technological objects needed to conduct these experiments — i’m just not technically proficient enough to produce an intelligent-enough robotic stand-up / humor / laughing machine to properly conduct the testing as i imagine it would need to be

but my hypothesis goes something like this:

the technologies we create will never be smart enough to deliver a successful set of stand-up comedy to a live, human audience — the content of the material would miss the mark and the delivery would be too awkward and off to get people to feel any amount of the sense of mirth needed to provoke genuine, human laughter

not only would a robotic stand-up act not produce laughter — in an even worse way such an act would most likely, instead, create an atmosphere of strangeness, this uncanny valley effect as defined and described by Masahiro Mori — the performance would feel downright creepy to people and would actually start to effect our human perceptions and our overall experience of the space and place of The Comedy Club as a familiar and funny scenario

i also do not believe our current technologies could be successfully programmed to behave in a smart enough manner onstage to improvise in the way a stand-up does on a nightly, performance-by-performance basis — a robot, for instance, might not be able to read the audience to gauge how they’re receiving the material, to see if they’re being funny enough to proceed with further material ‘as previously planned’ or to, perhaps, switch up to a different branch of jokes and storytelling based upon both an audience’s laughter and the general human feel of the room 

and then — when going in the other direction — when asking whether or not a robot or other computing machine could identify something as funny and then laugh in a natural, human way at the comedy or humor that typical inspires our human laughter — this, to me, is a no brainer

there’s just no way

in fact, we would be tripping into the same uncanny valley every step of the way — it might, perhaps, even be a far deeper fall into an unfathomable abyss of uncanniness

we can look to the dinner scene from Kubrick and Spielberg’s film A.I. Artificial Intelligence as the speculative example of what might actually happen when a robotic being encounters a humorous situation


as a robotic boy, David sits at the dinner table with his new adoptive parents — as his parents Monica and Henry Swinton eat and drink their meal, David imitates the act of eating and drinking since he himself does not actually need food-based sustenance to live — after some silent tension at the dinner table, David breaks out into a crazy fit of laughter that quite literally scares the shit out of the Swintons — and then, following the initial scary outburst of laughter, the entire family exchanges more laughter around the dinner table

the entire scene makes no sense at all from a purely human perspective, but we see how a robot might misinterpret the tension in the room as potential humor to laugh about — here, for some strange reason, the laughter of the robotic boy, succeeds in making his human parents laugh — his laughter somehow becomes contagious for them, infectious, and they join in — but even then, the shared social sense of human laughter still contains a sour uncanniness, there is still some tense pressure residing in the room


so, on that note:

is there anyone that might be up to the challenge? who here on the interwebz can build a robot or other technology that could potentially make a human audience genuinely laugh?

and, could you also build out its amazing technologically-based counterpart as well? a robot that can detect and actually laugh in a human, natural way to human-delivered stand-up comedy?

do you submit to my challenge?

do you even dare?

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