Notes on ACAAPNZ 2008
ACAAPNZ = annual conference of the New Zealand branch of the Australasian Association of Philosophy
Naturally, the Australasian Association of Philosophy has a New Zealand branch and (just as naturally) this branch has a regular conference that takes place in New Zealand. Oddly, though, the 2008 conference had a lot of Australians. But there's a natural explanation for this. The Australian National University can't find enough top Australian philosophers to fill their gaduate programs, and New Zealanders get first pick of the international scholarships at the ANU. Couple this with the fact that some top thinkers at ANU have dual careers in the big and small islands of the South Pacific, and you get quite a lot of inter-breeding. And when the man with the dual careers is Kim Sterelny, the scruffy luminary of cognitive evolution, you get quite a lot of Australian philosophers of biology at your New Zealand conference. This is all to the good, of course. But it means there's lots of philosophy of biology in the following notes on the conference, and not a whole lot else. So in here (in this and the following two posts) is my very selective list of conference talks, and some thoughts on them.

Presidential Address: On Turing on Intelligence as an Emotional Concept. Diane Proudfoot

A curious talk with drama, video, and a spiky question-time. The puzzle about the Turing Test is that Alan Turing's original version of the test seems needlessly complex. It consists in a jurer who asks questions of two hidden objects. One is a real person and the other is either a real person or a computer imitating a person. The jurer's task is to judge whether the second object is a real person or not. But it seems like one could just as well get rid of the first hidden object, and ask the jurer to judge whether it is a human or not.

Proudfoot thinks that the more complex test was better for Turing because he thought of mind as an “emotional” and not just an “intellectual” concept. Which is to say that whether we judge an object to be thinking or not depends on “our own state of mind and training”, which can vary between judges.

Proudfoot drew on three bodies of data, two sociological and one historical, to make her case. One is that humans are naturally credulous when interacting with computers. This can be nicely demonstrated by quirky videos of humans led into conversation with blocks of moving metal. Another is that humans guard their uniqueness jealously. We don't like being taken in by mere metal. At the annual Turing test Olympics, humans are more often mistaken for computers than the other way round. The historical fact is that Turing did indeed say that thinking is “emotional” in the way described above.

What to say about these bodies of data? The audience consensus seemed to be that they are interesting, but that it is not clear how they explain Turing's preference for the more complex test. Perhaps the idea is that the complex test brings out our jealousy to counteract our credulity. But how does the complex test accomplish this? And if mind really is an “emotional” concept, then the judgements we naturally make about the intelligence of machines should be our raw data about that intelligence, not fallible hunches.

To the second question, Proudfoot responds that according to Turing, our emotional response to a machine is only one component of the machine's intelligence, the other component being a fact about the machine itself. So Proudfoot would presumably claim that our credulity is not part of the subjective component, and is fallible. She did not give grounds for this claim -- even so, it can still form part of a how-possibly explanation for Turing's complex test.

The drama from the talk came from a mock-up of Alan Turing's 1952 broadcast on the BBC. Not all the original listeners liked the original broadcast. One listener said it sounded as if it had been “read from a prepared script, and badly.” Others were flatly opposed to the idea that machines could think. The mock-up got a receptive audience, though, not least because it shown the hidden dramatic talents of some professors of logic – talents great enough that noone could work out who they were.

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