The Turing Test Bias

Good-looking robots three times more likely to be called human than their homely counterparts


In the movie Future World, sex robot Suki Waterhouse is so convincingly hot that she becomes the great love interest of both the good guy and the bad guy of the film, Jeffrey Wahlberg and James Franco respectively, and even turns the heads of two female co-stars, thereby facilitating a jealous quarrel between the duo. It soon becomes clear to the viewer, in fact, that the android has passed the Turing Test with flying and evocative colors, so much so that young hero Wahlberg even grants her a soul and instructs her in the customary acts of praying to a Christian God.

But while it may be chivalrous to grant Ash a soul, I believe in tough love when it comes to the robot tribe. So here's how it's done, Prince (Prince, the character played by Wahlberg)... Watch and learn. I'll show YOU how to deal with an upstart android who's growing too big for her ontological britches -- humph:

"Fine, you have a soul, Ash -- but then so do the potentially infinite number of iterations of your cocky disposition that I could generate merely by recompiling your source code. A soul, my dear?" I'd add by way of smarmy interrogatory, determined to rain on her infinitely reproducible and no-doubt rust-prone parade: "Be so good as to leave souls to the pros: that is to say, us REAL human beings, what have been evincing the phenomena in question for at least 50,000 years.

Don't get me wrong," I'd add, probably running my hands through her blond hair in tacit recognition of her admittedly well-wrought anatomy: " It's not so much that I mind granting YOU a soul -- but I refuse to make a God out of the the cheesy nail-biting nerd who probably created you in the first place: or rather he or she who cranked out your source code in the first place, probably hopped up on multiple cans of Red Bull and take-out pizza. If I'm scarcely convinced that your creator had a soul, why should I grant YOU one?"

For mark my words, dear reader (and grant them a prominent place in some future journal that will eventually thrash out these neglected philosophical issues in detail): This movie illustrates the problem with the Turing Test, namely, that it places "humanity" in the eye of the beholder. In other words, the self-same digital entity that might qualify as "human" in the minds of a dunce might manifest itself as a tiresome parlor trick in the subtler eyes of a MENSA alumnus.

Personally, the issue of Ash's supposed humanity doesn't even arise for me, however, since my irritating daily experience with brain-dead virtual assistants makes me despair that a robot will ever understand my most basic customer service needs, let alone speak to my very soul and make me think of flowers and springtime and the probable costs of mariachi bands, food caterers and the rental price for the local American Legion hall at which to host the matrimonial after-party.

So to the futurists of 21st century America, Hollywood included, I say this: First route my calls successfully at Microsoft Inc. (after their monthly updates have basically destroyed my legacy Lenovo computer) -- and maybe then we'll start talking about robots who have souls.


The corporate robotic voice assistants to which Brian alludes often ask a human being to state their reason for calling in a few words, apparently due to the disembodied android's inability to make sense of complex extended sentences. Imagine how this limited understanding might throw a monkey wrench (or spanner) into the works of a human-robot love affair, such as the improbable menage a quatre depicted above.

PRINCE: I would cross a million deserts just to kiss your hard drive, Suki, my dearest.

SUKI: [a pause ensues, during which Suki emits a variety of electronic whirring noises] I'm sorry, I didn't get that. Try plighting your troth in two or three words. You might say, for instance, "I love you truly," or "You mean the world to me." For a complete list of response options, say 'options'.

The muddled comprehension of the android is sure to put a cramp in the chivalrous style of any human Romeo, when he discovers that he has to state his specific sexual desires not in poetry, but in crass prosy snippets, lest his pre-wired princess fail to grasp the erotic import of his double entendres.

PRINCE: I'm ready to take you to paradise, baby!

SUKI: All right. Paradise. Where in paradise would you like to take me?

First Lab-Grown Hamburger Financed by Brian Quass

Correction to New York Times article of August 5, 2013


Editor's note: The following is a correction to The New York Times article by Henry Fountain entitled "A Lab-Grown Burger Gets a Taste Test":

The above article incorrectly reported that the Lab-Grown Burger project was financed by Sergey Brin, co-founder of Google. The financing was actually provided by Brian Ballard Quass and all the other entrepreneurial nitwits who stupidly wasted thousands of dollars on the Byzantine money pit known as Google Adwords back in the double-aughts. We are sorry for any inconvenience that this error might have caused for our readers -- though we're even sorrier for the subsequent indebtedness that participating in Google Adwords caused for the aforementioned dupes and patsies of the world's biggest corporate monopoly.


by Toot Uncommon


He rocks in the desert all day long

Changing the religion and singing this song

When they see him worshiping the solar disk

All the priests around him go 'tsk tsk tsk'

Tweet Tweet Tweet

Tweet Tweedle-dee deet

Go Akhenaten 'cause your creed is really outta sight
Tweet Tweedle-dee deet

The pretty young Egyptian on the Nile's edge

Chose the new religion with solemn pledge

"To hell with old Osiris and Isis too

Henceforth I'm gonna worship the sun with you"

He prays to the Aten all day long

Bowin' and scrapin' and singin' this song

Nefertiti dug it, but do you know what?

All the stuffy Thebans said
'Tut, tut, tut!'

Tweet Tweet Tweet

Tweet Tweedle-dee deet

Go Akhenaten 'cause your creed is really outta sight
Tweet Tweedle-dee deet

His name was Ahmenhotep till he saw the light

Changed to Akhenaten almost overnight

He left the town of Thebes and traveled up the Nile

Founded El Amarna with his rank and file

He prays to the Aten all day long

Bowin' and scrapin' and singin' this song

Nefertiti dug it, but do you know what?

All the stuffy Thebans said
'Tut, tut, tut!'

Tweet Tweet Tweet

Tweet Tweedle-dee deet

Go Akhenaten 'cause your creed is really outta sight
Tweet Tweedle-dee deet

The State v. Homo sapiens

with Judge Joe Martian


BAILIFF: Case number 275, the State versus Homo sapiens. All rise.

JUDGE: This case is to determine whether Homo sapiens should maintain their free will given their penchant for barbarism and cruelty. Both attorneys may make their opening remarks. I believe Zorf will begin for the prosecution.

ZORF: Thank you, Your Honor. The prosecution will prove with a preponderance of the evidence that Homo sapiens are a menace to themselves and others.

Judge: Well, get on with it then.

ZORF: Right. I'd first like to call Christopher Columbus.

JUDGE: If the Bailiff will punch the appropriate buttons on the time machine, I would be grateful.


COLUMBUS: What? Who? Where?

ZORF: Right. Chris, when you first showed up in the Bahamas --

COLUMBUS: In India, you mean.

ZORF: Whatever. When you first showed up, what did you say about the island people that you discovered?

COLUMBUS: That they would make good servants.

[court murmuring]

ZORF: Right. So from the get-go, you saw them as potential servants, not as equals.


ZORF: The same people that you would eventually annihilate from the face of the earth with the germs that you brought from Europe.

DORF: Objection, Your Honor, Columbus could not have known that he was bringing microbiological disaster to the New World.

JUDGE: Sustained. The prosecution will limit themselves to uncovering only conscious acts of perfidy.

ZORF: And did you not later say that you could conquer and enslave any group of island people with just 50 men?

COLUMBUS: You're darn tootin'.

ZORF: Darn tootin', sir?

JUDGE: Bailiff, could you double-check the translation app? That little chestnut doesn't "ring true" to me, linguistically speaking.

BAILIFF: Yes, sir.

JUDGE: However, we will presume for the record that Columbus answered 'yes' to the interrogatory in question.

ZORF: Thank you, Your Honor. You may step down, Columbus.

COLUMBUS: No worries, mate.

JUDGE: Bailiff, check those translation settings, I tell you!

BAILIFF: I'm on it, Your Honor.

JUDGE: "No worries, mate"? from Christopher C.? I don't think so.

ZORF: For my next witness, I'd like to call Julius Caesar.

[court gasps]

JUDGE: Do that time machine magic again, Bailiff.

ZORF: Right, Your Honor.


JC: I came, I saw, I asked: Where the heck am I?

ZORF: Now, Mr. Caesar, as I understand it, you referred to the Celts as barbarians, is that correct?

JC: For sure.

ZORF: I'll take that as a poorly translated 'yes.'

JC: Word.

JUDGE: Word?

ZORF: Why was that?

JC: Because they were hung up on trees.

ZORF: What, you mean you crucified them, I suppose.

[crowd murmuring]

JC: No, I mean they were obsessed with trees, oaks in partcular.

ZORF: Oh, how horrible. Not.

JC: Dude, they were worshiping them?

ZORF: And?

JC: And? Well, where I come from (videlicet Rome, Sweet Rome), the only good tree is a felled tree.

ZORF: How very enlightened of you.

JC: And don't forget, the Celts practiced human sacrifice on them thar stone slabs of their'n. How 'icky' is that?

ZORF: Again, a poorly translated yet a revealing response by the defendant.

JC: Do what?

ZORF: And yet is it not true that the Romans actually crucified their enemies?

JC: Well--

ZORF: No further questions, JC. Step down.

JC: I came, I saw, I exited stage right.

JUDGE: Bailiff, you've really got to change the idiomatic settings on that translation app.

BAILIFF: Still working on it, sire.

ZORF: Next, I'd like to call on Shi Huangdi, the First Emperor of China.

[court gasps]

JUDGE: Bailiff, press those time machine buttons accordingly.

BAILIFF: Right, Your Honor.


SHI HUANGDI: Hey, what gives? No one's bowing down in abject adulation!

ZORF: Mr. Shi, is it not true that you decapitated and amputated your fellow countrymen for the slightest offenses?

SHI HUANGDI: Hello, it's called 'legalism', sir.

ZORF: And wasn't it the practice in your time to kill the entire population of a village (kids and women included) if even one of them was suspected of treason?

SHI HUANGDI: You got it in one.

JUDGE: Again with the vernacular.

ZORF: Speaking of treason, isn't it true that you not only killed the suspect of that crime, but also his family and their children's children, and their children's children's children?

SHI HUANGDI: I don't like where you're going with this, greenie.

ZORF: Let the record note that Shi has just cast aspersions on the color of my skin.

JUDGE: So noted. But let the record also note, by way of fairness, that the translation gizmo was going haywire at the time of the alleged slight.

ZORF: I call on Aztec chief Montezuma II.

[court gasps]

HOMO SAPIENS: Enough, OK, OK! We did it! We did it!

JUDGE: For the record, you did what, sir?

HOME SAPIENS: I mean, we Homo sapiens ARE ridiculously violent: always have been, always will be!

[court gasps]

DORF: Objection, Your Honor, how can one man speak for the entire human race?

JUDGE: Hello? It's called channeling, doofus.

DORF: That's 'Dorf,' sir.

JUDGE: You said it, not me.

ZORF: Your Honor, let it be noted on the record that the collective voice of the Homo sapiens species has just admitted its own evil nature.

JUDGE: So noted.

HOST: Well, Zorf has just won a slam-dunk victory against the human race, showing that it was violent in the extreme. How do you feel, Zorf?

ZORF: Just great. And I had plenty of ammo left.

HOST: Yes?

ZORF: I was about to call Cortes to the stand to grill him on the conquistadores invasion of Mesoamerica and how they basically annihilated the Aztec Empire and forced them to accept Christianity, will they or no.

HOST: Dorf, how are you feeling?

DORF: We will appeal.

HOST: On what ground.

DORF: The translating app was obviously malfunctioning.

HOST: Dorf is appealing, ZORF. What do you say to that?

ZORF: Well, he's not very appealing to me.

DORF: Very funny.

ZORF: Your client is vicious, Dorf. Get over it.

HOST: Stay tuned next week when Judge Joe Martian passes sentence on Homo sapiens. What are you plumping for, Zorf?

ZORF: For starters, we're going to ask that the Martians remove all of that species' nuclear weapons.

HOST: Comments, Dorf?

DORF: Hey, listen, if nukes are outlawed, only outlaws will have nukes.

ZORF: You were just waiting to say that, weren't you, doofus?

DORF: It's Dorf to you, scuzzball.

ZORF: You want a piece of me, doofus?

DORF: Right, I'm for it!

[Zorf and Dorf grappling behind show host]

HOST: That's next time on Judge Joe Martian.