Brian Christian's book The Most Human Human, newly out in paperback, tells the story of how the author, "a young poet with degrees in computer science and philosophy," set out to win the "Most Human Human" prize in a Turing test weighing natural against artificial intelligence. Along the way, as he prepares to prove to a panel of judges (via an anonymous teletype interface) that he is not a machine, the book provides a sharply reasoned investigation into the nature of thinking. Are we setting ourselves up for failure by competing with machines in their analytical, logical areas of prowess rather than nurturing our own human strengths?
The Turing test attempts to discern whether computers are, to put it most simply, “like us” or “unlike us”: humans have always been preoccupied with their place among the rest of creation. The development of the computer in the twentieth century may represent the first time that this place has changed.
The story of the Turing test, of the speculation and enthusiasm and unease over artificial intelligence in general, is, then, the story of our speculation and enthusiasm and unease over ourselves. What are our abilities? What are we good at? What makes us special? A look at the history of computing technology, then, is only half of the picture. The other half is the history of mankind’s thoughts about itself.