Date Tags ai / code

I've been reading a bunch of books this year about the history of philosophy in the first half of the twentieth century and the linguistic / analytical turn it took in England under the influence of Wittgenstein and A J Ayer, most recently Claire Mac Cumhaill and Rachael Wiseman's Metaphysical Animals, which deserves a whole post of its own.

It's got me thinking about the intellectual background to the Turing Test: one in which, to caricature matters very broadly, the legitimate area of enquiry of philosophy was being reduced from matters of metaphysics and ethics to the study of language and its use.

The Turing Test has a curious epistemological status, more so than most thought experiments. It's become part of the AI myth, all the more powerfully so for its origins at the birthplace of computer science, but it's still, basically, a work of science fiction, and perhaps owes something to an intellectual climate in which the idea of being human was being identified with being able to use language.

It was remarked at the time that the "ordinary language" studied by philosophers such as J L Austin was, in fact, the ordinary language of men who had been educated at English public schools, and one could mount a similar attach on the Turing Test: that it equates lucidity and eloquence with sentience.

Anyway: my first reaction to the story about the Google engineer was to thing, "oh, how sad". I've noticed that a lot of online takes are much more venomous. Partly this reflects a justifiable emnity towards the tech sector, but I also suspect that the story hits a nerve.

(According to this slide deck I just Googled Turing and Wittgenstein had regular discussions on foundational mathematics at Cambridge, which is fascinating in itself.)