Friday, May 25, 2007


Since Turing, a scientific genius, was not speaking ex tempore but presenting, in [Computing machinery and intelligence], a well-considered opinion, something more specific than general human fallibility seems called for as an explanation for his adoption of a view [that he had come up with a test to determine if a computer may be said to think] that seems nothing less than absurd. My explanation is that Turing was lonely; first because it is in the nature of things that a genius must be lonely, but also and more particularly because he was a homosexual in a society that strongly rejected homosexuality. In seeing the computer as a potential friend he was by no means alone — many of the strange beliefs I will be discussing are at bottom searches for a buddy — and the computer is not the most unlikely entity in which lonely man has attempted to find a friend. But whatever the cause that led a genius of Turing’s caliber to suppose a computer capable of thought, I see in it a failure of confidence in their own experience on the part of modern cultivated people. It is a failure that shows itself again in our increasing preoccupation, sometimes even obsession, with the world of the Virtual — that is, of things that do such a good job of seeming that mere being cannot compete.

— Mark Halpern, Paradox Lost: the Cost of a Virtual World

Read also, Mark Halpern, The Trouble with the Turing Test, The New Atlantis, Number 11, Winter 2006.

Mark Halpern initiated The Jacques Barzun Centennial.


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