Ideological Turing Test: More Important Than Ever?

For this post I decided to do something a little different. Instead of talking about politics I wanted to talk about a concept that I found watching Joe Scott on YouTube; the Ideological Turing Test.

For those of you unfamiliar with the Turing Test, it was first proposed by Alan Turing in 1951 in a paper called ‘the imitation game’. In Lehman’s terms, it proposed a test in which there are 3 connected computers in 3 separate rooms. In one room sits a human, in the second a computer, and in the third sits a person – call him or her the “judge”. The judge’s job is to decide which of the two people talking to him through the computer is human, and which is the machine. Turing proposed that if, under these conditions, a judge were correct less than 50% of the time, then the computer must be a passable simulation of a human being and hence, intelligent. The game has been recently modified so that there is only one contestant, and the judge’s job is not to choose between two contestants, but simply to decide whether the single contestant is human or machine.

The Ideological Turing Test, created by Bryan Caplan in 2011, is designed to test whether a partisan individual fully understands the political and ideological beliefs of those on the other side of the political sepctrum. Two parties of opposite ideological beliefs are required to answer a question or write an essay from the point of view of one side, for example, a Democrat would be challenged to write as Republican. If the judge was unable to accurately discern which answer or argument was written by which side, ie the Democrat posing as the Republican vs a Republican, then the Democrat would have successfully passed the Ideological Turing Test.

Although the test is a few years old, it may never have been more relevant. There are massive social and ideological cleavages in the US and across the world, and the first step to healing those divides is for both sides to try to understand where the other side is coming from. If you can truly understand the point of view of a person across the other side the ideological spectrum, then you can begin to have a sensible discussion about the divide between you. I couldn’t put it better than Atticus Finch himself, “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view . . . until you climb into his skin and walk around in it”.

However, the Ideological Turing Test has come under some criticism. Blogger Noah Smith questioned whether the Ideological Turing Test was flawed based on the logic of the Chinese room thought experiment. The Chinese room though experiment postulated that if you asked a computer questions in Chinese and it’s responses were good enough to fool a person into thinking that they were talking to a Chinese person, that the computer would still not truly understand Chinese, it would only be simulating this knowledge. When considered for the Ideological Turing Test, it poses the question, do you really need to truly understand an ideological argument to replicate it. It is easy enough to parody a point of view without understand where they come from, so how could the test be accurate or even worthwhile?

I think the point of the test has been missed when you consider this argument. I think the main point of the Ideological Turing Test is to teach people to consider the other side of an argument. To begin to work with the other side to discuss the divisions and truly understand the nature of the differences in opinion. There are many divisions in America and across the world that could be at least partially solved or improved by both sides considering why the other side feels the way they do. Police vs minority communities, republicans vs democrats, socialists vs capitalists, pro life vs pro choice, the list goes on. Hillary Clinton had a leaked phone call in which she was saying that she doesn’t understand some of the extremists in the country. There is a massive amount of work that needs to be done to bring together a country that is more divided than ever. That starts with understanding the grievances on both ends of the political spectrum.

 

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