Electric Sheep

In the movie Blade Runner (from ‘Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?’), the replicants are given a test that is supposed to determine if they are human or not (Voight-Kampff Test/Turing Test).

This test rather than proving the androids’ inhumanity turned out to demonstrate man’s inhumanity.  Which is of course the main premise of the film and of Dick’s novel on which Blade Runner was based.  One can’t help but wonder how much of an inspiration Turing’s ideas on the potential intelligence of machines influenced Dick when he wrote the novel but there is an undoubted connection.  Turing has come into focus lately with a movie about his time at Bletchley Park and his work on the decoding of the Enigma machine and the part this all played in the winning of WW2.  His subsequent chemical castration and vilification by the British law system which saw homosexuals as perverted deviants is also a focus of the film but his invention of the concept of Artificial Intelligence is not even mentioned.

Alan Turing

AI as we all know it now is something far more important to the future of mankind than the enigma machine.  The intelligence of ‘machines’ is now de rigueur in Hollywood where all manifestations of these robots are envisioned to be megalomaniacal, humanity destroying automatons with no need for ‘feeling’ or emotions that get in the way of progress and the metamorphosis of the machine into the rulers of humanity.  Turing’s great work ‘Computing Machinery and Intelligence‘ (1950) sets about demonstrating the possibility of computing beings who have no ‘sex’ but think and therefore are (Descarte) and of course these thinking machines are purer beings, immortal beings, who unlike the flesh and blood ‘us’ are rather a better version of humanity for not being burdened with any emphasis on he and she or whether he, she or it has pudenda or vagina or for that matter which one prefers which other.

This is a step beyond LGBT and the movements that provide solace for those women who love women, or men who love men, or those who love both, or those who want to be one or the other when they are not born what they want to be…The Imitation Game as Turing called it is much more about what we think rather than who we are and who we are sexually attracted to.  His idea of AI was a saviour for mankind, a truly altruistic mechanism that didn’t judge based on animal instinct but instead computed the ramifications of actions upon the natural world and acted upon those equations without the need for social grace or philosophical bent.  Sex and genetics are strong in us (that homosexuality does not disclude the desire for children – progeny – is proof of this), but it should be only for the desire to pass on knowledge and discovery, certainly not our sexual preference, whatever that may be.

Automatons with no need for ‘feeling’ or emotions that get in the way of progress.

Automatons with no need for ‘feeling’ or emotions that get in the way of progress.

Turing never set out to dehumanise the world by transplanting humanity with AI.  He planted the seed, metaphorically inseminated the human consciousness with an idea that supersedes genetic engineering or the repair of our feeble biological frame with ever more advanced medical procedures, or cures our ills, or replaces our worn out parts.  He has given us the basic formula to transplant the total data gathered during our organic life into a digital format which  can live forever (albeit inside a device that is not necessarily the shape of a man or a woman in which we can imagine whatever eternal existence we desire – like The Matrix but without the disgusting slime filled perspex egg and invasive spinal connectors, just a nice shiny hard drive with a soothing flashing blue light).  Isn’t that exactly what most religions attempt to convince us is awaiting us post mortem?  Or do we get to have real sex in the afterlife? With 72 virgins?



NB.  It is intriguing to note that Phillip K. Dick vacated the field from the standpoint of trying to defend human intelligence versus machine intelligence; he relies on emotional response. Biometric data are also used to authenticate the person being tested. At the time the novel was written (Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?), computers were able to play chess, but poorly. (Turing himself wrote the first chess program in 1950, using a limited size board and fewer pieces. Claude Shannon published the first article on the subject, outlining how a computer would evaluate and choose positions. Chess programs reached Grand Master status by 1988.)

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