Plastic Machines: Behavioural Diversity and the Turing Test

Abstract
After proposing the Turing Test, Alan Turing himself considered a number of objections to the idea that a machine might eventually pass it. One of the objections discussed by Turing was that no machine will ever pass the Turing Test because no machine will ever “have as much diversity of behaviour as a man”. He responded as follows: the “criticism that a machine cannot have much diversity of behaviour is just a way of saying that it cannot have much storage capacity”. I shall argue that the objection cannot be dismissed so easily. The diversity exhibited by human behaviour is characterized by a kind of context-sensitive adaptive plasticity. Most of the time, human beings flexibly and fluently respond to what is relevant in a given situation. Moreover, ordinary human life involves an open-ended flow of shifting contexts to which our behaviour typically adapts in real time. For a machine to “have as much diversity of behaviour as a man” would be for that machine to keep its responses and behaviour relevant within such a flow. Merely giving a machine the capacity to store a huge amount of information and an enormous number of behaviour-generating rules will not achieve this goal. By drawing on arguments presented originally by Descartes, and by making contact with the frame problem in artificial intelligence, I shall argue that the distinctive context-sensitive adaptive plasticity of human behaviour explains why the Turing Test is such a stringent test for the presence of thought, and why it is much harder to pass than Turing himself may have realized
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