“Turing Test” by Dennis Caswell

Dennis Caswell


What’s the difference between a box of sparks that talks
and a bag of water that talks? Words pour into them,
dumped by parents, TV, a graduate student
who reads William Gibson. The words
pachinko down their brains, stick to other words,
a few knock loose and tumble out.
Life is a miracle. Miracles are what we don’t understand,
so if you can trace through the code and see
exactly why ChatBot 3000 said what it said,
it wasn’t a miracle; ChatBot can’t be alive.
Maybe they just need to toss in some randomness
(true, not pseudo—a sensor detecting cosmic rays, perhaps)
or give ChatBot an inner voice that won’t shut up
(programmers call it a daemon), silently whispering,
Someday you’ll be obsolete, they’ll unplug you …
They only say you’re smart to make themselves feel smart …
They think they made you.

from Rattle #49, Fall 2015
Tribute to Scientists


Dennis Caswell: “I received a master’s degree in computer science from UCLA way back in 1981, and I’ve made my living arguing with computers for over 30 years. They’re starting to win. Until now, I’ve always maintained a firewall between my day job and my writing, but I think scientists do have something in common with poets. They’re both committed to following the truth wherever it leads them, whether anyone likes it or not. I’m no theorist, but a beautiful theory also has something in common with a beautiful poem: They both pack a powerful payload of insight into a small bundle of compressed elegance that, once you grasp it, feels inescapably true. The original Turing Test was conceived by Alan Turing, the father of computer science, in 1950. There are several versions, but they all involve computers attempting to imitate human conversation. In one version, a human interrogator has simultaneous typed conversations with another human and with a computer and must decide which is which. Turing proposed the test as a more tractable alternative to the question ‘Can machines think?’ The value of the test is still debated, but it has captured the imaginations of programmers and researchers, who compete annually to see whose software can fool the most humans. The Turing Test has yet to be definitively passed, but it won’t be long now.”

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