We first started with a braistorming session for the question: What can humans do?

A majority of the answers that came up were in the high-level intelligence category such as: recognize emotions, translate foreign languages, compose music, write poems, create something new, recognize contexts/patterns/3D objects, make medical decisions, rephrase, paint, etc. Those were to distinguish computers and humans.

It was surprising that none of us mentioned physical activity, like driving. Computer drivers are supposed to be more reliable than humans without all the distraction just as texting, talking on the phone, listening to music. And yet we are still frightened by the scenario of an un-manned vehicle, so we always want human override lest something wrong happens.

The discussion revolved around the question “Can machines think?”, which, in Turing’s time, received a lot of knee-jerk objections and was deemed too meaningless to deserve discussion by Turing himself. Instead, the question should be whether a machine can do well in a behavioral game that involves the presence of a mind or thoughts. The first of such game was call the Imitation Game designed by Alan Turing. He described the game as followed:

Suppose there is a man (A) and a woman (B) and an interrogator (C) who can be of either gender. The interrogator is separated from the other two. The object of the game is for the interrogator to determine which of the other two is the man and which is the woman. The question then is, what if we let a machine take the part of A in this game? Would it be able to “fake” being a man and fool the interrogator? Such questions are more precise than “Can machines think?”.

It is noteworthy that Turing was aware of the major objections to the claim that machines can think, so he went on to label nine objections and gave his arguments against them as well (though those were not discussed in class):

1. The theologian objection: God has granted humans soul, and thus a soul make us able to think. Animals or machines, regardless of having a physical body, do not have a soul, so they cannot think.

2. “Head in the sand” objection: if machines could really think, the consequences are very frightening. Humans could lose the sense of superiority and uniqueness, as well as face the fear of being replaced/decimated by intelligent machines. Such predictions have been negatively depicted in science fictions movies like “I, Robot”, “Terminator” or “Eagle eye”.

3. The mathematical objection: computers cannot answer all the mathematical questions based solely on logic.

4. The consciousness objection: the absence of emotions and feelings suggests that computers cannot have what is equivalent to the human’s brains.

5. Disability objection: contains a list of thing that computers cannot do, such as be friendly, be kind, tell right from wrong, have a sense of humor, fall in love, etc.

6. Lady Lovelace’s objection: machines can only get as smart as we tell them to be, or can do things we program them to do, based on Ada Lovelace’s description of the Analytical Engine.

7. Continuity of nervous system: human brains are not digital, they have continuous nervous response whereas computers operate on a discrete basis of being on or off. The objection claims that without continuous response, machines cannot have intelligence.

8. Informality of behaviors: machines operate on some sets of rule in certain while there is no strict rule for what human ought to do in every possible set of circumstances. It follows that humans are definitely not machines.

9. Extrasensory perception argument: Turing was somehow quite convinced by the human’s ability of┬átelepathy, so he set up the conditions such that mind-reading was impossible for interrogators in the game. The objection was that humans could use telepathy to figure out whether other participants are humans or machines, and Turing’s argued that machines could be telepathic as well.


We then had a mini debate over the prospect of Artificial Intelligence. The biggest obstacle now for AI is how to make machines remember and learn from experience. Some hilarious examples were shown in the two following videos:

AI vs. AI: Two chatbots talking to each other:


Two Bots Talking: Fake Kirk and A.L.I.C.E.