MAS 960  ·  Signals, Truth & Design Seminar  ·  Fall 2007

12.04 The not quite human other


required readings

Turing, Alan    Computing Machinery and Intellligence
Weizenbaum, Joseph   ELIZA--A Computer Program For the Study of Natural Language Communication Between Man and Machine
Donath, Judith    Being Real
Wada, Shibata, Saito and Tanie Effects of Robot-Assisted Activity for Elderly People and Nurses at a Day Service Center (new link, with images)
[local copy]

optional readings

Donath, Judith    The Imperfect Observer (section 3)
Turkle, Sherry    Relational artifacts with children and elders: the complexities of cybercompanionship
Friedman, Batya   Hardware companions?: what online AIBO discussion forums reveal about the human-robotic relationship


  1. Read the papers.
  2. Answer these questions:
    1. Turing mentioned that that the suitability of the Imitation Game as a substitute for the question “Can machines think?” was debatable, but he never really returned to that issue.  Do you think it is a good substitute? Why or why not? Why do you think Turing proposed this substitute?

      We can frame these questions in terms of signaling: "thinking" is the quality we wish to determine about the other, but it is invisible. We must instead rely on observable signals as indicators of this quality. Turing is proposing successful playing of the Imitation Game as the signal - is this a reliable signal of intelligence? What makes it reliable (or not)?

    2. Weizenbaum created ELIZA in part to show that simple communication was not a reliable signal of thought. He modeled it on a Rogerian psychologist: how did this framework help people communicate with the program? How did it affect their perception of its underlying intelligence? As you look at the various contemporary chatbots, think about and describe how the model of what type of being they are affects one's interpretation of their inner state.
    3. In Being Real I discuss briefly the possibility of agents that use voice, video, etc. to communicate. How would such extended communication channels affect the reliability of the signal as an indicator of intelligence? If you are interested in exploring this question more deeply, a good starting point is Steven Harnad's paper "Other Bodies, Other Minds: A Machine Incarnation of an Old Philosophical Problem"

    4. Paro makes people feel better. It does this, arguably, by deceptively signaling need and affection. Is this a case where deception is a good thing? Is the case of these ill patients a special case? Does it matter if they know it is a robot? How does this differ from a live pet? How do robot pets compare with real pets as companions say for healthy children. Which is preferrable? Why?

Please link your essays by Monday midday.