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What if Barbie could pass the Turing Test?

If you’re a movie fan or a cryptologist, you probably know who Alan Turing was. In the movie ‘The Imitation Game’, the code breaker savant was portrayed by the omnipresent Benedict Cumberbatch. Among his contributions to society is the Turing Test. A machine passes the test when a human interlocutor cannot determine if they are conversing with said machine or with a human.

Toymaker Mattel now endeavors to have its classic doll, Barbie, pass the Turing Test – at least when conversing with a 9 year-old girl. In a wonderful article in the New York Times magazine, James Vlahos describes the development of a soon-to-be released Barbie with the artificial intelligence to hold a real conversation with its (her?) human companion.

What most interested me is the idea that it’s not necessary to pass the Turing Test if your human companion knows a machine’s limitations but treats it like a human anyway. If you’ve had kids (or remember being one), you know that a youngster can have elaborate, imaginary conversations with a stuffed bunny, the family pet or with Barbie. No response required.

So, what if Barbie could talk back? Would a child know that Barbie is just a toy just as she knows that Fido is just a dog? Probably. Would Barbie pass the Turing Test? Probably not. Read more

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