Year 2049. Three decades have passed since Richard Deckard began hunting down and retiring Nexus 6 models. The Wallace Corporation has built an empire on the ruins of Tyrell Corp, designing a new generation of replicants, more obliging and integrated in society. Through the implementation of memories, the new models have an emotional foundation that makes them more stable than their predecessors, much more similar to humans.
Both Ridley Scott’s cult classic and its sequel, Blade Runner 2049, draw inspiration from Philip K. Dick’s ‘Do androids Dream of Electric Sheep?’ novel. The story takes place in a future where robots, created to serve humans, resemble them so much that they’re impossible to tell them apart on sight. The only way to determine whether a subject is a replicant or not is by applying the Voight-Kampff test, a series of questions intended to trigger an emotional response. This questionnaire also requires using a machine capable of measuring alterations in bodily functions such as blushing, respiration, heartrate and eye movement.
This test is very similar to the one designed by mathematician Alan Turing in 1950, originally posed as an alternative to the question of whether or not a machine could be said to think.
The Turing test is considered as the ultimate test for machine communication abilities, as Kevin Warwick and Huma Shah explain in the book ‘The Next Step. Exponential Life,’ which can downloaded for free at BBVA OpenMind project’s website.
It involves distinguishing between a human and a computer in their responses to unrestricted questions, taking into account human factors such as the effects of lying, misunderstanding, humor, and lack of knowledge. The premise is simple: if a computer can behave intelligently, it means it is intelligent.
Turing set a pass mark for his test of 30% in the sense that for a machine to pass, at least 30% of the judges who interrogated that machine would not be able to make the right identification in the tests in which they were involved. In their essay, Warwick and Shah analyze the transcripts taken from the 2014 Royal Society experiment, in which a machine first passed the Turing test.
During this experiment, a machine called Eugene Gootsman, posing as a thirteen-year-old Ukrainian boy, performed remarkably well. This machine, developed in Saint Petersburg, managed to deceive 33% of the event’s judges through a combination of straightforward answers and a talkative personality. The creators of the chatbot say that its age is part of a credible personality. Eugene’s young age led people to forgive its grammatical quirks and lack of knowledge on some topics.
Philip K. Dick was familiar with Turing’s work. However, he considered that emotions are what define human intelligence. That is why his test aims to assess empathy and not replicants’ ability to think. In Blade Runner, questions only trigger an emotional response when the subject is human; in other words, the lack of empathy is what gives replicants away.
Although many experts agree with Philip K. Dick in that intelligence is much more than the ability to hold a conversation, the Turing test is still an indicator of the progress of artificial intelligence and computer performance.
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