I've spent quite a while studying Turing's 1950 paper "Computing Machinery and Intelligence", regarded by many as the mission statement of AI, and one part of this paper has always seemed completely mysterious. Why did Turing so eagerly promote the idea of E.S.P. in a paper about programming a computer with the computation of intelligence?

  • He certainly didn't "eagerly promote" ESP. In his paper, he considers various objections to his ideas, one of which is ESP. I'm not sure how you're reading this as eager promotion. csee.umbc.edu/courses/471/papers/turing.pdf
    – user4894
    Feb 2 '18 at 20:05
  • @user4894 Turing says, in his 1950 paper, "...the statistical evidence, at least for telepathy, is overwhelming." Is this not promoting ESP? If it's not promoting a form of ESP, then what would count as eagerly promoting ESP?
    – Roddus
    Feb 3 '18 at 1:54
  • @user4894 Having just had a look again at Turing's paper, he also says"...thinking is just the kind of phenomenon where ESP may be especially relevant.". (But he doesn't say exactly how - and why not?) There presumably is a good reason why Turing promotes ESP. It wasn't established "fact" at the time, so why include it in a positive way? Why even mention it, if it's existence isn't on a solid foundation? It adds an air of Madam Magda to the paper, too. It's difficult to see how this helps his thesis of the computational mind, wouldn't you say?
    – Roddus
    Feb 3 '18 at 2:09
  • You are reading something that I'm not. I see him enumerating the possible objections to his ideas. He's going overboard to be broadminded by including all objections, scientific or not.
    – user4894
    Feb 3 '18 at 2:50

Turing wanted to eliminate any human ESP abilities from affecting the test. This ability could make it more difficult for the computer to fool the human or raise doubts about the validity of the test. He proposed a “telepathy-proof room” to cover this possibility. He was not promoting ESP. He considered it “disturbing”.

By mentioning ESP he unintentionally did the following.

(1) He gave credibility to the existence of ESP by claiming the evidence for telepathy in particular was “overwhelming”. Indeed, the evidence for what is called psi today is overwhelming. See Dean Radin’s “Selected Psi Research Publications”.

(2) His concern for ESP pointed out human abilities that he did not expect computers to be able to simulate. This put in doubt a computational theory of the human mind even if it turned out that some future machine could be conscious in some way.

  • 1
    The psi link is really interesting. Yet I understand there have been many, many blind tests on the possibility of telepathy, telekinesis, etc. and the existence of any form of ESP has yet to be established using accepted empirical methods. But surely Turing had a good reason to include positive comments about ESP. But I can't see how his paper would lose anything by leaving the ESP stuff out, and it would surely gain something - it would be more scientifically acceptable.
    – Roddus
    Feb 3 '18 at 2:27
  • @Roddus I agree with you that he should have left out the part about ESP. Perhaps others brought it to his attention and he knew they would read the paper? We disagree on the strength of psi evidence, but that is not relevant to your question. Nonetheless any computational theory of mind will have to explain psi data, or reject it, whether Turing mentioned it or not. Feb 3 '18 at 2:46
  • I wonder whether there's another explanation why Turing included ESP. His 1950 paper proposes a way to create human-like intelligence in a machine. Sensory perception is fundamental to human intelligence, yet he doesn't mention it. Presumably he hadn't worked out how to explain sensory perception in computational terms. If he had worked this out surely he would have included it. The next best thing could be to get the idea of perception into the paper but without taking about sensory perception, i.e., talking about extra (ie, non-) sensory perception. This could be a factor?
    – Roddus
    Feb 3 '18 at 9:17
  • @Roddus It is hard to say what his motivations were. He was trying to reject ESP, but for some reason he felt he couldn't do so outright. I thought this resulting focus on ESP was "unintentional" on his part, but I might be wrong. Feb 3 '18 at 14:00

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