07 juni 2015

Reverse Turing Test: can we become more human using technology?

We're almost there. Some say we've already passed the test. Last year, Eugene Goostman successfully convinced a third of the people he had a conversation with, that he was human. Eugene is nothing more than a chatterbot, a smart collection of algorithms.

The test, by the way, is called the Turing Test, named after computer scientist Alan Turing. The test is about Artificial Intelligence (AI), about making technology so smart that we humans can't tell the difference anymore between a computer and a human being in a communication situation.

While computer scientist run the last lap in the AI-race, it's time to think about the next hurdle. This time, the focus isn't on computers, but on us, humans. And our relationship with technology. This time it's about the Reverse Turing Test. For me the question is:
How can we become even more human, so human that even the smartest computers can't fully decipher us?
In a way, we seem to be on the wrong track. The use of technology sometimes make us less human. Research by the University of Michigan says that we have grown less empathic over the last decades. Is this because of technology? Perhaps. Cosmetic technology: a botoxed face comes with less complex facial expressions. It makes it more difficult to understand each other and communicate. Social media: cyberbullying ruins the lifes of millions of children. War: killing an opponent is done from behind a screen, where the target has turned to nothing more than the bad guy in a game. After delivering a bomb by drone in a far away country, the soldier returns home at five to have dinner with his wife and family.

At the same time, technology offers great opportunities to make us more human. We can share knowledge, stories, ideas, thoughts, worldwide, fast, from anywhere. We can work together on great ideas, not behing hindered by distance. Technology can give a voice to the voiceless. Take the incredible story of Carly Fleischmann, the autistic girl that couldn't speak, but found a way to communicate her needs and thoughts through a computer. It can enable the disabled, give strength to the weak. It can help us doing research on who we are and what makes it stand out and help us become outstanding.

Can technology help us become better humans? More empathic, creative, caring, smarter in handling conflicts, wiser, understanding, witty...? I think it can. But we need to be aware of how the tools shape us (McLuhan) and use our brilliant minds to stay in charge. Get ready to be dancing with robots (Levy, Murnane), with yourself as the leading partner. Or as the Dutch journalist Bennie Mols smartly alliterates: let's dance 'Turing's tango'.

Education is the place to start working on this. Let's help a new generation getting more human, learning them to use technology in a critical, positive, creative, cooperative way. Let them develop their human skills and their uniqueness. Let them discover how we can use technology, not to replace us but to let us flourish. Let them pass and keep passing the Reverse Turing Test. And maybe, this is where a better world starts.

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