Why is the Turing test so popular?



I know there are different AI tests but I'm wondering why other tests are little-known. Is the Turing test hyped? Are there any scientific reasons to prefer one test to the other?

Why is the Turing test so popular?


Posted 2017-01-21T21:02:30.960

Reputation: 357

4I think this is a bad question because the answers it attracts will be opinion. But to add mine: the Turing test is important primarily for historical reasons. Turing essentially created Computer Science as a field, and had a visionary appreciation of the broad applicability of electronic computers. That gave his blithe assurance that the equivalent of human cognition was available to computers a lot of weight. The test's emphasis on behaviorism was in keeping with the emerging psychological trends of the day, and it was convincing enough to provoke interesting philosophical discussions. – antlersoft – 2017-01-22T16:52:14.367

1@antlersoft Thank you for pointing of the historical factor of the question. Your answer is not opinion since it is based on strong historical evidence; but are historical reasons enough to explain the hype in our days despite the advent of new and more sophisticated tests? Which are the other possible factors that are determining the fame of the Turing test? – Lovecraft – 2017-01-22T19:54:40.540


I think this question is interesting. If there are scientific reasons to prefer the test, opinions would be irrelevant. As usual, any answers that just state personal opinion with no basis in facts would be removed. (Relevant SE blog post.)

– Ben N – 2017-01-23T01:45:51.703



Because it is:

  1. Easy to explain. (Its essentially a game, the "imitation game")
  2. Intuitively plausible as a metric.
  3. The idea of "people v.s. AI" is very marketable.
  4. At the time we thought that we can analyze cognition strictly in terms of input/output (per behaviorism). Cognitivism, embodied cognition, developmental cognition are all sub-fields that have a right to challenge the Turing Test, but they weren't developed at the time of Turing.

Of course, it also helps that Turing is a very important figure in AI/CS.

k.c. sayz 'k.c sayz'

Posted 2017-01-21T21:02:30.960

Reputation: 1 835

Can you please provide some sources for point 4 (at least)? – Mithical – 2017-04-22T19:01:42.247

I don't have any specific sources in mind because the rough ideas were just as taught to me in class. Though I do recall my lecturer making the explicit association between the philosophy of the Turing test and Skinner's Radical Behaviourism. If you look at the historical timeline, it also seems to fit. The Turing Test was developed in the early 50s, and behaviourism was very influential around that time (Skinner, the most prominent behaviourist was very active during 40~50s) Most importantly of course, is the radical input/output method of analysis shared by both however. – k.c. sayz 'k.c sayz' – 2017-04-22T19:38:41.847



the Turing test doesn't say much about internal states, and though technically you might still be able to "ask questions about its internal states", doing so would be quite shallow, while abandoning the insights of cognitivism

embodied cognition

is the agent still "intelligent" in the same way that we are if it has no physical embodiment? (or at least, makes trivial use of it)

developmental cognition:

is the agent still "intelligent" in the same way that we are if it has no developmental phase? – k.c. sayz 'k.c sayz' – 2017-04-22T19:53:32.290

Turing is....definitely an important figure in AI (turing test) and CS (philosophy of CS, Turing machine, Turing completeness....) – k.c. sayz 'k.c sayz' – 2017-04-22T19:55:12.723

I'd say 3. utility value is the correct, specific answer to why it is so popular. (i.e. there is an economic incentive.) – DukeZhou – 2017-04-22T20:15:48.417


I agree with @colourincorrect 's point that there is economic value to AI which can pass Turing tests to various degrees (chatbots for instance) and this is the reason it is so popular.

At a deeper level, the test relates to subjectivity, and can be said to have it's origins with the early Greek philosopher Protagoras, who proposed that "Man is the measure of all things."

πάντων χρημάτων μέτρον ἐστὶν ἄνθρωπος, τῶν μὲν ὄντων ὡς ἔστιν, τῶν δὲ οὐκ ὄντων ὡς οὐκ ἔστιν.
Source: Sextus Empiricus, Adv. math. 7.60

Full quote may be translated as: "Of all things (used by man) the measure (of these things) is man: of the things that are, that they are, of the things that are not, that they are not."

(Apologies as I cannot find a direct link for the Greek online. I re-translated the first part of the proposition for clarity, but lifted the second part from Bostock, whose Ancient Greek is undoubtedly better than mine, because it is potentially ambiguous, even in the original, and Bostock's interpretation makes good use of that ambiguity.)

χρημάτων "things" is distinct from ὄντων "things", which is interpreted to mean Protagoras was speaking about things that man has a direct relationship to, such as property, tools, affairs and so forth. "A thing that one needs or uses" is listed in the LSJ.

Protagoras can unquestionably be extended to Algorithmic Intelligences, which are "thing" used and interacted with by humans.

The Turing Test exists because it not only has utility value, but because of the fundamental condition of subjectivity, the idea of which goes back to the earliest, most basic, philosophical concepts.


Posted 2017-01-21T21:02:30.960

Reputation: 5 886


The test has gained its name and fame mostly because of the person behind it, Alan Turing. Turing - Considered as the father of Artificial Intelligence is among the first who believed that even machines can act and think like humans.

Even though the test is famous there is not much effort placed to qualify the test. The primary reason for this it due to the fact as the test only asks the machine to act like a human being. This is not very beneficial as not all acts of humans are rational and efficient. Go over these threads for more on this.

I think it's the idea of something non-human acting like a human that creates so much fuzz about Turing Test among the general public.

Suraj Shah

Posted 2017-01-21T21:02:30.960

Reputation: 155

Excellent. I agree that the idea of fooling a human judge (or panel) as to whether a human or a computer is conversing with the judge(s) from within a black box under test is not very scientific. Dr. Roger Schank once raised exactly that objection, although he's now on a Turing Test panel. A human is not a universal judge of what is intelligent, and a committee is an even worse idea. Time is the best judge, which presents an interesting question: "Is bacteria smarter than humans?" It would not surprise the CDC if staphylococcus aureus was still around when humans went extinct. – FauChristian – 2018-07-07T01:10:02.967


It is so popular because Turing formulated it. He was one of the first who talked about "intelligent machines" and was good connected in the scientific community since the 1940s. So there was enough time to distribute his very intelligent thoughts, for instance by Von Neumann, until now. Turing's importance for computer science is shown by the name of the Turing Award. So it is clear that a lot of people have read his papers.


Posted 2017-01-21T21:02:30.960

Reputation: 308


This isn't a complete answer, but might show some contributing factors. Perhaps most of all, the Turing Test has existed for a long time! In 2000 Turing Test: 50 Years Later reviewed the history of the Turing Test in academia. Given this time, it has become pervasive in popular culture (well, in scifi. e.g. Ex Machina.) It has also garnered attention in media. Googling "Turing Test news" shows lots of stories about "AI" passing the Turing Test over the last few years. Aside from its age, it's a pretty simple idea at its core. A human talks to a computer and decides if they think it's a human or not. That's a pretty digestible idea! So, between its age and ease of understanding, it's a prime candidate for being popular. Other tests tend to lack these qualities (age and simplicity).


Posted 2017-01-21T21:02:30.960

Reputation: 36