A Turing test for morality?
by Chris Seidel

part 1

June 24, 2000    Saturday

      Alan Turing is considered one of the fathers of artificial intelligence and many consider him as laying the groundwork for the way we use computers today. In 1936 he published a paper on the nature of computation and described a mechanism for computing anything that is possible to compute. During world war II Alan Turing led the team of intellectuals that worked on cracking the Enigma, the code that the Germans used to communicate. He was successful and was credited with saving England. His actions had a major impact on the ability of the allies to defeat the Germans and win the war. His worked saved the lives of thousands, if not millions. He made a hero's contribution to history, both for saving his country, and for founding the technology that has shaped our lives today.

      Part of Turing's work involved examing definitions of intelligence, and thinking about how one would codify rules for intelligence such that they could be encoded into a machine. In 1950 he published a paper termed "Computing Machinery and Intelligence", in which he considered the question of whether machines could think. As thinking and intelligence are closely linked he also proposed a test for determining whether a machine could be considered intelligent. It is commonly referred to as the Turing test, though he called it the imitation game. The basic idea was that if you had to interact with an unknown entity behind a curtain by asking it questions, and if at the end of your question period you were unable to determine if the entity was a human or a machine, it would then be unreasonable not to refer to the entity as intelligent.

      As it turns out, Alan Turing couldn't be the hero his country wanted him to be. He was a homosexual, and homosexuality was illegal in England. After reporting a robbery to the police it came out in the ensuing investigation that he was homosexual and he was arrested. He was sentenced to be injected with estrogen to curb or deprive him of his sexuality. Though he had been an athletic long distance runner, the hormones feminized his body and gave him breasts. Alan Turing had a habit of eating an apple before bedtime. One night, prior to eating his apple he decided to inject it with cyanide. Alan Turing commited suicide.

      California has just decided to deny homosexuals the same rights to a civil union enjoyed by heterosexual couples. The law is called the "Defense of Marriage Act", and declares that only marriage between a man and a woman is legally recognized. I know homosexual couples, and I know heterosexual couples, and in terms of the nature of their relationships I find it difficult to tell them apart. Thus I am unable to understand a rational basis for denying a homosexual couple the same rights enjoyed by a heterosexual couple.

      Perhaps we should modify Alan Turing's test for artificial intelligence to be a test for certain moral issues, such as whether to grant rights to a homosexual. The Turing test was designed to determine whether or not a system was intelligent. If you have to interact with an entity, and after a normal conversation you can't tell whether that entity is a computer or a real person, then the entity has exhibited signs of intelligence, and must be intelligent. Why not a similar test for offering an entity the rights of marriage? Let's say you have to interact with an entity, whose sex or sexual orientation you have no idea about. And you're allowed to discuss anything except specific sex acts, or the specific gender of your mate. If after that conversation you are unable to determine the sexual orientation of the entity, then why would you not grant that entity the same rights as you have, since you failed at being able to distinguish it from yourself without an overtly specific question such as, "Are you the opposite sex of your sexual partner?".

      It's interesting to note that when Turing proposed the test, his "Imitation Game", the example he chose was one of gender determination. Here is the original text from his paper:

The new form of the problem can be described in terms of a game which we call the "imitation game." It is played with three people, a man (A), a woman (B), and an interrogator (C) who may be of either sex. The interrogator stays in a room apart from the other two. The object of the game for the interrogator is to determine which of the other two is the man and which is the woman. He knows them by labels X and Y, and at the end of the game he says either "X is A and Y is B" or "X is B and Y is A." The interrogator is allowed to put questions to A and B.

      While the majority of Californians seem to know why they would deny marriage rights to homosexuals, I am unable to understand it. I would love to watch over a moral Turing test and see what I am missing from the interrogator.