Turing tests II: Wittgenstein and Voigt-Kampff

Could a machine think? — Could it be in pain? — Well is the human body to be called such a machine? It surely comes as close as possible to being such a machine.

But a machine surely cannot think! — Is that an empirical statement? No. We only say of a human being and what is like one that it thinks. We also say it of dolls and no doubt of spirits too. Look at the word “to think” as a tool.

Ludwig Wittgenstein Philosophical Investigations 359-360

Wittgenstein’s note comes to mind as I continue thinking about Turing tests. I think this quote has been read as saying that there can be no test for intelligence or thinking, but it is really not at all saying that. It merely says that we use the concept of things that are like us. And the interesting part about that is that there are so many qualities that could be used to assess that. At what point will we simply give up and call something human?

Enter the Voigt-Kampff machine, the monster Turing test in the movie Bladerunner. In that test Decker, the bounty hunter, has to use extreme equipment to detect the tell-tale lack of empathic response that reveals someone as a replicant. There is a legitimate ethical question here about how much we are allowed to test an entity to determine that it is not human. And how arbitrary those tests can be. The Turing test easily degenerates to a Shibboleth. Here Decker uses the Voigt-Kampff to determine if Rachael is a artificial or real mind:

Oh, and on the note on alternative Turing tests, I now add civilization-scale tests (is this an intelligent civilization) and the meta-Turing test: is this person able to detect that they are in a Turing test situation. More to come. Bear with me…

CINAC, and the false sense of scientific robustness

Recently, reading texts of scientific method and rigorous thinking in general, I have been struck by how many people who believe that the world would be better if people just knew the fundamentals of the scientific method. When I ask what that is everyone agrees that it is best captured by the acronym CINAC.


Correlation is not a cause. This is of course correct. In the image above the observer who thinks that b causes c only because they are correlated via z is wrong. It is a that causes both b and c. The same logical mistake has been known for ages. Where the correlation is ordered in time the Romans used the term post hoc ergo prompter hoc – the mistake to think that just because something preceded something else it caused the latter to happen.

I do agree that it would be good for us to think about this. But it also strikes me as true that there is a good deal of irony in the fact that we do not know what cause is if we analyze it further. Kant thought it to be a necessary category in our perception of the world. Hume thought it was bogus. For Wittgenstein it is just a way of using language.

The same people who confidently state that correlation is not a cause have no way of positively identifying what would be a bona fide cause even if it bit them. CINAC has become a rallying cry for those who would be scientific, but without the intellectual honesty to accept that correlations can be very valuable too. Especially since we lack good definitions of what constitutes a cause…