The "Joe" Turing Test

Sam Frentzel-Beyme Follow Managing Partner & Strategy Director

The Short of It

  • At some point we'll have the ability to build realistic models of how the brain works and functions.
  • New technologies will have a fundamental impact on the human species.
  • Turing Tests could be used to understand where automation makes sense and where it doesn't.

I just finished up Ray Kurzweil’s How to Create a Mind (interesting talk at Google here), which is a fascinating journey into a future that is in many ways already here.

The basic premise of the book is that our technology continues to improve and expand at such a rate (he calls this the Law of Accelerating Returns - LOAR) that at some point we will have the ability to build realistic models of how the brain works and functions and that this is going to have a fundamental impact on the human species.

While there are literally decades, if not centuries, of debate covered in the book (free will, consciousness, etc.), there was one practical thing I kept coming back to: facts. What happens when technology renders discussion of the facts obsolete?

Watson, the AI computer that won the $1 million first prize on Jeopardy! in 2011, is a great example. Here is a computer that is able to beat humans in terms of factual data (granted within a specific area). What if one day Watson showed up at your company and wanted your position? How would you compete? If the Turing test is based on testing a machine’s ability to communicate in way that is indistinguishable from a real human being, what “Joe” Turing test would have to be created to make it immediately evident that at a certain job human answers were better?

A lot of times we think about all the things we know in our jobs and how that information protects us from the future. We tend to equate the acquisition of facts over time with our overall value and position. After all, you can’t learn everything overnight, so accumulation of information over time is in essence valuable, right?

But in a world where technology can easily make up for time, by orders of magnitude, facts are becoming less and less of what will keep us in the game. It will be our ability to make connections between the facts, and between others around the value of those facts, that will ensure our continued value.

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