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Tuesday, June 26, 2012

E-Turing-ity Road

  A recent BBC report states that, potentially, the Death of Alan Turing might not have been a suicide [article here].  While reports of how “happy” or “good-humored” Turing seemed to others, after his chemical castration due to homosexuality, are not to be trusted (he could have been putting on a brave face out of fears of worse punishment), the description of the circumstances of his alleged suicide are a little inconsistent.  The half-eaten apple was part of his daily routine, and he was working with cyanide in one of his experiments.  Perhaps it wasn’t so much a conscious suicide as an accident resulting from a general depression he was careful to conceal.  After all, he was by no means under ordinary pressures or circumstances -- great scientist though he was.

  Aside from his many accomplishments, Turing is famous for the “Turing Test”, which measures the ability of a hypothetical machine to imitate a human (some say to “fool” a human) in the context of a “parlor game” where an interviewer asks questions and hears back responses that are meant to be “male” from first a woman and a man, then a computer designed to sound like a woman pretending to be a man and a man.  No computer has yet been made that would satisfy the requirements of this “test”.

  Thinking about the Turing Test got me wondering about a test, or “quiz”, I made (link here -- if you’re under 18, please choose the “Family” setting while browsing other quizzes on this site; my test will still be visible), and -- more relevantly -- some of the IAT tests I’ve been taking (take IAT tests here).  Though the IAT test is not perfect (randomization of the order and some other factors would help it out tremendously), it’s one of the best measures of actual attitude the social sciences have ever come up with -- primarily because it doesn’t measure what you say, but how your behavior is within a given set of parameters.  How might things have changed, for Turing, if this test were in use prior to his death, in 1954?  What might this kind of test have revealed about homosexuality and chemical castration?  As to the castration question, recent studies have proven that an experiment can still be done, without castrating any humans.  Monkeys were shown to be able to provide interpretable results from an AIT test.  With a comparison, on a variety of tests, between castrated monkeys and monkeys that have not been castrated, we might learn a lot about the ancient (and uniquely human) practice of castration, and that data would be imminently useful to Veterinarians and pet owners.  I’m a little worried, though, about the implications if desirable traits in humanity (lack of prejudice, self-esteem, resistance to stereotypes) were shown to improve in the subjects who had been castrated.  It seems unlikely, from my experience, for animals castrated after adulthood, but it could be entirely possible for those castrated young.  We, as a species, might be closer to that anthill or beehive, with a single breeding pair or artificial wombs to provide us with children, than anyone would hope for or want.  That is, however, no reason for it not to be tested, or for the results not to be seen.

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