[extropy-chat] The reverse Turing Test

Damien Broderick thespike at satx.rr.com
Tue Feb 27 16:12:24 UTC 2007

At 11:36 PM 2/26/2007 -0800, Jef wrote:

>In such a case, the entity always claims to understand the topic, but
>appears to quote heavily and literally from sources available on the
>web.  When the human rephrases concepts in non-standard ways as a test
>of understanding, the entity typically responds by initiating a new
>conversational thread based on some alternative text findable on the
>web, like a strangely updated parody of Weizenbaum's ELIZA.

If you've ever tried to deal with a human at the other end of a 
telephone enquiry desk, you'll be familiar with a disturbing variant 
of this effect. Yesterday I had a futile conversation with a guy at 
Home Depot. I told him as clearly as I could (conscious that my 
Aussie accent can throw USians) that I wanted to know about 
purchasing and having installed a 14 inch aluminum turbine vent above 
an attic. He fell silent for an extended period, and then said he 
could not find this service on his screen. He went away to consult 
his supervisor, and several jazz tracks later returned to say the 
same thing, apologetically. I said, "Do you mean that Home Depot does 
not sell turbine vents, or will not install them?" "I'm sorry," he 
said, "but my screen does not show this as being available." I said, 
"Just to clarify this: Do you mean that Home Depot does not have 
turbine vents in stock? Are you saying that if I drove to the store, 
I would not be able to buy one there?" He just kept repeating, in the 
same formula, that this was not showing up on his screen. I went away 
biting my lip. My wife commented aptly: "Few things are more 
heart-breaking & enraging than a human who has turned himself into a 
1965-vintage computer."

Damien Broderick

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