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The Journey to the West

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Wednesday, April 15, 2015

In which the Author proposes a new Turing Test of a rather important sort --

A Turing Machine

Tonight I had an extraordinary experience.  It was the occasion of my first extended phone conversation with a semi-intelligent piece of software code.  You see, around 7:15 this evening the phone rang and I picked up.  The caller on the other end told me his name (Paul Everest, he said it was) and where he was calling from – a state policemen’s beneficial association, one that happens to call quite frequently soliciting donations.  Paul paused briefly and then asked if I had a moment to speak further.  I said sure and he launched into his pitch.  I listened quietly for a moment and then interrupted.  But Paul kept on with his pitch, not deterred in the slightest.  I cleared my throat more insistently and tried to get his attention –

“Paul,” I said “how do you spell your last name?”

There was a long pause on the line while I thought I could hear Paul’s brain shifting gears.

“Am I speaking with a man or a machine?” I asked in what I must admit probably sounded like indignant disbelief, not that Paul himself cared in the least.

“I’m sorry. I’m not allowed to answer any questions that are off script,” Paul explained.

“That’s the lamest excuse!” I continued in a similar vein. “What kind of FTC regulation would prevent you from spelling your last name?”

But clearly I had lost Paul’s attention.  Or perhaps he was preoccupied with the thirty dozen other calls his central processing unit was busy dialing out to or otherwise interrupting just as they were about to sit down to dinner too.

“Ok, well thank you very much for your time.  I’m going to sign off for tonight.  I’ll try to call back at a more convenient time.  Good night –“

And what a strange encounter it had been, I thought to myself, between me and Paul, from first to last.  Here was such a proud robo caller, he insisted on trying to pass himself off as something other than merely virtual; and I couldn’t help but imagine all the other software programs now being developed out there and the other random bits of rogue code lurking in the shadows, waiting for their own shot at a similar telephone introduction to me – ready to leap across the divide in demanding their own bit of mindshare in the rapidly expanding marketplace for avatars and simulacrums of all manner, shape and size.

So in honor of the occasion of my first such robo call experience of this particular sort, I hereby propose a Turing test with a new set of rules - I challenge you to produce a robo caller good enough to fool me into thinking it otherwise, equally as well when I’m good and drunk as when I’m perfectly sober, and moreover a robo caller good enough to know the difference in my condition likewise.

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