October 21, 2012

Mitt Romney and America’s Turing Test

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Tonight President Barack Obama and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney will debate foreign policy in the third and final presidential debate. Pundits across the country believe that, with many polls showing a tie or leads well within the margins of error, tonight’s debate will prove pivotal — especially so in each campaigns’ final push to catch undecided voters as they jump off the swing that has recently carried battleground states’ electoral votes back and forth between the two candidates.

While all this may be true, there is something more important at stake in the debate. Tonight is America’s last chance before the election to escape the implications of the Turing Test. The Turing Test was created by computer scientist Alan Turing in 1950 with the hope of setting a standard by which computers can be considered intelligent.

The first iteration of this test is known as the Imitation Game. Within the game there are three players: A, B and C. Player A tells a lie, Player B tells the truth and Player C must determine which player is being honest. Player A attempts to mislead Player C while Player B tries to assist Player C. Turing believed that if Player A was replaced with a computer and led Player C to be incorrect moreso than when a person played Player A’s role, computers could be said to be intelligent. In other words, if a computer can lie better than a human, the computer is intelligent. It appears as though the Republican Party has decided to perform a switch eerily similar to this.

In 2008, John McCain ran as the Republican nominee against then Senator Barack Obama. McCain was Player A, attempting to mislead the American people as to whom his policies would benefit and what type of president he would be. It did not work. There was wide consensus that McCain lost the debates and he eventually went on to lose the election. Thus, the American people were able to see through McCain’s (Player A’s) misrepresentations.

This election, however, the Republican Party has provided the world with a real-life replica of Turing’s Imitation Game by selecting Governor Romney as its nominee. In this role, he is the computer who replaced Senator McCain as Player A.

You say Governor Romney is not a computer? How so? His input is the simple code of public opinion. Find a majority that is in favor of some issue and, except for the occasional glitch, you will find Governor Romney’s position in perfect alignment. Governor Romney even has his own programming language, Protean. The code is unique in that it allows the Romney-bot to make rapid changes of stance on important issues without losing too much credibility among the electorate.

There are only a few places where the Romney-bot’s programming has been tripped up. This is to be expected. After all, the RNC has decades of failed campaigns from which to learn and include as part of Governor Romney’s programming. For some reason, though, Romney’s wiring does not work well abroad. Who could forget when he waded across the Atlantic to cheer on his wife’s horse in the Olympics only to conclude the trip by accusing our greatest ally, Great Britain, of doing a poor job preparing for the games? Remember how the Romney-bot (Player A) said Israel had a stronger economy than the Palestinians’ because of the former’s superior culture?

With the focus of tonight’s debate being foreign policy, the problems within the Romney-bot’s programming on foreign affairs serve as a chance for America to realize the truth — that Governor Romney is unable to be forthright due to the nature of Turing’s test and the Imitation Game.

Despite his glitches and the inherently robotic tone of this highly advanced humanoid-bot, close to 50 percent of Americans are considering casting their votes for Governor Romney.

Don’t allow Turing’s theory of computer intelligence to be proven through Governor Romney. Watch tonight’s debate and notice the glitches in the Romney-bot. Show that Americans distinguish between tricky artificial intelligence and reality. With the debate score tied at one-to-one, tonight is our last chance to prove that we still can.

S.D. Seppinni is a senior in the School of Industrial and Labor Relations. He may be reached at s.d.seppinni@cornellsun.com. Letters from a Young Curmudgeon appears alternate Mondays this semester.

Original Author: S.D. Seppinni

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