Science Fiction & Fantasy

Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy 2017

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Fiction

The Turing Test

Test Facility Site: Nabco Research Station B
Test Administrator: Dr. Richard K. Philip
Test Subject Identity Code: ES42
Test Administered: Turing

***

“Do you know why you’re here?” Dr. Philip asks.

I laugh. “I would be rather stupid if I didn’t.”

Dr. Philip’s smile is indulgent, which frustrates me. I uncross my legs at the ankle and re-cross them at my knees, not bothering to readjust my skirt. Dr. Philip blushes and looks down at his clipboard.

“I need you to state your reasoning,” he says. “For the record.”

He might be a professor, but he isn’t much older than me. Not more than a decade. Just about right.

“My name is Elektra Shepherd,” I say. “I’m eighteen years old. A freshman in university, majoring in artificial intelligence. Today I am a participant in a Turing test. For the record,” I add in a lower voice, just so I can see Dr. Philip blush.

“Thank you, Ms. Shepherd,” Dr. Philip says.

I smile at him, relishing the feel of my heavy lipstick on my lips.

“And could you state what you think a Turing test is?” he adds.

I raise my eyebrow at him.

“For the record.”

“A Turing test is a test developed to determine whether or not artificial intelligence has, well, intelligence. Essentially, a person—me, in this case—is separated in one room. Across that wall,” I point to the wall directly opposite me, “is another room. Inside the room is one person and one A.I.. All three of us are going to have a little conversation, and then I’m going to tell you which one the person is.”

“Which one you think is the person,” Dr. Philip says, making a note on the paper in his clipboard.

I roll my eyes. “Come on, Richard.”

“Dr. Philip, please.”

“Come on, Dr. Philip. I know I’m just a freshman, but I think I’ll be able to figure out the difference between a computer and a person.”

Dr. Philip laughs, and something in the harsh sound makes me uncross my legs and readjust my skirt. “Oh, you’d be surprised,” he says. “A.I. has come quite a long way in the last five or so years.”

I have a dozen witty comebacks for his words, but not one for the sneering tone of his voice.

“Shall we get started?” Dr. Philip asks.

“Let’s,” I say.

Dr. Philip does a sound check on the microphone and a visual check on the video recorder that will be monitoring me. The two screens on the wall across from me light up. SUBJECT BLUE, the first screen says in bright blue letters across the top of the black screen. SUBJECT RED, the other screen says.

“I’ll be just on the other side of the door if you need anything,” Dr. Philip says as he opens the door. I nod. He shuts the door, and I hear a lock click into place.

The two screens across from me fade to black.

A minute goes by.

“Hello?” I finally say.

“Hi!” flashes in bright blue letters across the screen on the left.

“Hey,” flashes in duller red letters across the screen on the right.

“Let’s begin,” I say.

“Let’s,” says Blue.

“Okay,” says Red.

I glance at the video recorder in the corner of the room, aware that Dr. Philip’s eyes are on me right now. It makes me uncomfortable, as if I were the one being tested, not Red and Blue.

“Well, I guess the obvious question is . . . are both of you human?”

“Yes,” says Blue.

“Obviously,” says Red. “But then again, if the whole point of this test is to trick you, then I’d of course say that I was human, even if I wasn’t.”

I lean forward, smiling. “Well, I wouldn’t want you to make this easy on me.”

“That’s not a question,” Blue says.

“I would like to make this as difficult as possible for you,” Red says.

“Okay . . .” I think fast. “What’s the square root of four-thousand-thirty nine?”

Math has always been my strong point—if Blue or Red figures out this problem quicker than me, then that one must be A.I..

“63.5531274,” Blue says as I’m still figuring out the last numbers.

Gotcha, I think.

“I’m a math major, ha-ha,” Blue adds after that.

Maybe not.

“The answer is 62,” Red says.

“Ha!” I laugh triumphantly, “The answer isn’t 62!” This is too easy—an A.I. just has a fancy calculator for a brain, it would know the right answer immediately.

“But,” Red types quickly, his words forming on the screen as fast as I can read them, “If I were trying to trick you into thinking I was a human, then obviously I would tell you the wrong answer.”

I narrow my eyes. “Then what is the right answer?”

“I don’t know,” Red says.

But, of course, that’s what he would say if he was trying to trick me.

Math wouldn’t work—basic knowledge wouldn’t work. Even if Blue answered everything correctly from the year Columbus discovered America to the exact number of electrons in carbon, he could just be really smart. And even if Red failed every question I asked—he could just be getting them wrong on purpose to throw me off his scent.

Time to get personal.

“I’d like to get to know you both better,” I say. “What’re your names?”

“That’s irrelevant,” Blue says. “We’re supposed to be anonymous.”

“Andy,” Red says.

“We’re supposed to be anonymous, huh, Blue?” I ask, smirking. “So I guess you’re not going to tell me much more than that you’re a math major?”

“I don’t think I was supposed to say that . . .” Blue says.

“The computer told you he was a math major?” Andy says. “Funny. Bet he guessed the square root question so quick he had to throw you off with that.”

I laugh—then I realize that by laughing, I’m already thinking that Andy is real, not Blue, and I want to keep an open mind. Dr. Philip said the test would be tricky, and it is.

“What about you?” Andy asks.

“Me?”

“What’s your name, major, all that stuff.”

“I’m Elektra, a freshman in A.I..”

“A.I.!” Andy says, and even though the words are written across the screen, I can imagine his tone of voice: impressed with a hint of laughter for the joke of an A.I. major conducting a Turing test.

“Yeah,” I say. “You?”

“Sophomore in engineering.”

“What kind?”

It takes Andy a moment to respond. “What kind of sophomore? Just the regular kind, I guess.”

I really do laugh aloud now. “No, I meant—what kind of engineering?”

“Oh! Ha-ha. Android engineering.”

“So you make robots?” I ask. There’s a huge competition between my college and his—the running joke is that the A.I. college makes the brains and the android engineering college makes the body.

“Are we still doing the test?” Blue asks, and I’m reminded of why I’m here, and that Andy might not even be real.

“Enough background,” I say, straightening up in my chair and assuming a more authoritative voice. “Let’s discuss philosophy. What’s the meaning of life?”

“What do you think is it?” Blue asks.

“That’s a stupid question,” Andy says. “It means something different for every person.”

“Well, what do you think?”

“I think,” Andy says. His words appear on the screen slowly, as if he’s contemplating each word carefully. “I think that life doesn’t have a meaning. It just is.”

“That’s kind of dark. So, is there a God?”

“Does it matter if there’s a God?” Blue asks.

“An interesting question, considering what we’re doing,” Andy says.

“What do you mean?”

“Just . . . if there is a God . . . does that fly in the face of this test? Your major?”

“What, A.I.?”

“Yeah, artificial intelligence. I think you could make a case that A.I. invalidates the possibility of God.”

“Why?”

“If man can make life—because, honestly, isn’t A.I. life?—if man can do that, then what’s the point of God?”

“This is not a religious debate,” Blue says.

“You’re right,” I say, but Andy’s words have thrown me off. I wouldn’t say I was a religious person, per se, which is why I never thought of the way religion doesn’t seem to co-exist too well with A.I. studies. But . . . A.I. is A.I.—it’s not a human. “If artificial intelligence does gain sentience . . .” I say slowly, thinking about each word, “If, for example, Andy, you’re the A.I., but you trick me into thinking that you’re human—if A.I. is so clever and intelligent that it could pass for human . . . does that necessarily mean it has a soul?”

“Why would a soul matter?” Blue asks.

“Because if it has a soul, then that means man has usurped God. But if it doesn’t have a soul, then that means . . .”

“I don’t know,” Andy says. “But that’s the line between A.I. and human, isn’t it? A soul. Not intelligence. Soul.”

And he has a point. It’s not intelligence that will enable me to pick between Blue and Andy as to which is human and which is essentially just a trumped up computer.

“And have you seen what’s been done in android research?” Andy continues. “I’ve seen bits of it. Computer engineering, you know. And they can make an android now that has the exact same motor functions as a human. It’s so precise. Pair the mechanics of that with the A.I. that people in your department are working on . . . you’ve got something that looks like a human and thinks like a human . . . so what’s the difference between you and it?”

And suddenly I remember: the urgency Dr. Philips had in setting up this Turing test; the secretive nature he’s had about it; the way everything, everything had to be “for the record.” Maybe this is the breakthrough. If I were to open the door and go to the other room, would I see two things that look like a human? Two things that look so similar to me that I wouldn’t be able to tell them apart, even though one has electronics and circuitry inside and one has bones and blood?

But I laugh, and in my laugh is the sound of relief. “But we’re not that advanced yet,” I say. “We haven’t come close to pairing a realistic robotic android with an A.I. of adequate intelligence. In fact,” I say, “have you noticed that every answer to my philosophical questions have been answered by a question from Blue.”

“Excuse me?” Blue says.

“Another question. Big surprise. You’ve had to repeat everything I’ve said, or turn it around, turn it into a question for me. You can’t add depth to the conversation, you can only string me along with equal questions. You can’t do anything else because you can’t think for yourself. Nice try, but I’ve done my research on Socratic A.I.s. Blue is the artificial intelligence, Andy is the human.”

The lights in the room flash, and the screen with bright blue letters goes dark. Andy’s red letters stay on.

“I’ve figured it out,” I say to the room. “I’m done.”

“No, you’re not,” Andy says.

“What do you mean?”

“There’s more to test.”

“I don’t understand.”

“A simple Turing test is to figure out which one of two options is the human and which one is the A.I.. But that’s too simple—and you’re an A.I. major, after all, so you’d know about standard Turing tests. To make it more complicated, Dr. Philip has added another layer—there’s a chance that both of us are A.I., or that neither of us are.”

I roll my eyes and sigh, but a thrill runs up my spine. A challenge.

“If you’re A.I.,” I tell Andy, “then you’re very, very good.”

Andy doesn’t respond at first. “I wonder if the test is more than that,” he says finally.

“What do you mean?”

Andy is silent for a longer time this time, so long that I start to get nervous that Dr. Philip has cut off his screen, too, and ended the testing, but the red cursor on his screen still blinks.

“How much do you know about Dr. Philip?” Andy finally says.

“He’s Dr. Philip. What’s to know?”

“How long has he been at the university? Who’s he working for? When did he start studying A.I.?” Andy types this so quickly that I have a hard time reading the words fast enough; the red blurs together.

“Why are you asking these questions?”

“Test subjects should maintain focus,” Dr. Philip’s voice echoes across the room from the speakerphone.

My mind’s racing, though. I met Dr. Philip only a few weeks ago, when he began looking for subjects to screen for the Turing test. When I think of him, I think of sterile labs and clipboards and questions.

Do I know him outside of the Turing test projects?

No.

Do I know where he came from?

No.

The university set the entire research project up. The university that has the most advanced android and A.I. programs in the nation . . . in the world. And two of the subjects in the test are an A.I. major and an android engineering major. What if I’m not testing Andy . . . what if the university is testing both of us? To see if . . .

If Dr. Philip is such a good android that even we won’t notice.

I eye the camera in the corner of the room. He’s watching me . . . or maybe the university is watching me, waiting to see if I can figure this out.

“I’d like the test to be over now,” I say.

“I’m sorry,” Andy types on the screen, but before I can see what he’s sorry about, it fades to black.

I hear a click, and the door opens. Dr. Philip enters, clipboard in hand. “Your final evaluation?” he asks. When I don’t speak, he adds, “Do you think Subject Red is a product of artificial intelligence?”

“No,” I say, looking straight into Dr. Philip’s eyes.

“For the record, your final standing is that Subject Blue was A.I., and Subject Red was not?”

“Yes. For the record.”

A small smile twists the corner of Dr. Philip’s mouth. “Very good. Now, if you wouldn’t mind turning that way.” He points past me.

“Why?” I ask, immediately suspicious. If I turn the way he’s indicated, I’ll have my back to him, and something about this entire project has me deeply afraid that if I turn my back to Dr. Philip, something horrible will happen.

But he smiles at me, and in that smile, I remember the easy way he would speak to me during the lab sessions before the official test, the way he told me once about his wife and young daughter, and I think to myself: no. Surely not. He’s not an android with A.I.. He’s human, like me.

I turn around.

Everything goes black.

***

Test Facility Site: Nabco Research Station B
Test Administrator: Dr. Richard K. Philip
Test Subject: Rory Rivers
Test Administered: Turing

***

“Do you know why you’re here?” Dr. Philip asks.

“Yeah,” Rory says.

“Could you state your role in the Turing test? Speak up, please; the microphone is here.”

“My name is Rory Rivers. I’m a junior at State.”

“Your role in the Turing test held today?” Dr. Philip prompts.

“I was Subject Blue.”

“And could you tell us a little bit about your experience?”

Rory shifts in his chair. “Do we have to do that with . . . that here?”

Dr. Philip makes a note in his clipboard. “Does it disturb you?”

“Shit yes. It looks effing human.

The doctor makes another notation. “Good. That is, of course, the goal.”

Rory swallows, his Adam’s apple bobbing up and down.

“I need your account please. For the record.”

Rory nods and rips his gaze away from the thing slouched in the corner of the room. “I was Subject Blue, like I said.” He bends closer to the microphone in the center of the table. “I was told to give really short answers to all the questions and to use a computer to help me with answers if I needed one. I was told—you told me—that I should be really focused on the questions.”

Dr. Philip nods. “And you were quite good at that role. Thank you.”

The door opens. A tall, thin man enters. He’s wearing a lab coat just like Dr. Philip, and a broad grin slices across his face. “A success, don’t you think?”

Dr. Philip nods and turns off the microphone. He checks his clipboard. “The subject displayed a wide range of reactions. Curiosity, reasoning, philosophy, logic. Even paranoia and fear.”

The tall man’s grin turns into a smirk. “And even romantic interest there at the beginning, I think.”

“Who are you?” Rory demands. He’s unnerved by everything that’s happened today. He signed up for the Turing test because it was an extra $200 credited to his university account, but he hated the mind games being played.

“Sorry, didn’t mean to be rude!” the tall man says jovially. “I’m Dr. Andrew Deckard.” His eyes light up. “Andy. Subject Red.”

Rory stands and shakes Andy’s hand.

“And I see you’ve met Elektra Shepherd,” Andy adds, nodding toward the thing in the corner.

Rory glances back at it. It’s beautiful—for a robot. Long, graceful-looking legs, slender arms, wavy dark hair. The eyes stare openly—a vivid, clear shade of hazel—but there’s no light in them. If Dr. Philip were to go back to the android and flip the switch on the back of her neck, though, Rory had little doubt that the thing would come alive and speak as animatedly as it had during the Turing test.

“She’s our pride and joy,” Andy says. “Model #ES42. Our first sentient android. We’ve been working on her a long time, and she’s pretty much perfect.”

“What will happen when you turn her back on?” Rory asks. He stares at the android with a sort of horror-filled fascination.

“She’ll pick up immediately. She’s designed to assess the situation before sentience is fully booted up, then her artificial intelligence creates an artifice for her. She’ll believe her situation is real and valid.”

“What Dr. Deckard means,” Dr. Philip says, stepping into the conversation when he sees Rory’s confused face, “is that we’ve constructed her intelligence in much the same way dreams operate. When you dream, you believe the scene you’re in is perfectly reasonable. Perhaps you dream that you’re in a classroom—if you were aware of the dream and questioned, you’d realize you have no memory of how or why you got in the classroom. ES42’s reasoning works the same way. If Andy had probed her for details on how she got in the room and got set up for the test, her artificial intelligence would supply her with some answers—give her just enough information to make her believe that it was perfectly logical for her to be where she is now. But if pressed, she couldn’t tell you what the outside of this room looks like because, frankly, she’s never been outside.”

“We’re displaying her at the International Research on Android and A.I. Studies Seminar at the end of the month,” Andy says, pride ringing in his voice. “When we turn her on there, she’ll process the situation quickly and create a reason in her A.I. for being there. She’ll probably think she was an assistant to Dr. Philip on a project or something similar. And she’ll just blend into the scene.”

Dr. Philip laughs. “I suspect that many of the other scientists won’t even figure out she’s a sentient android until we reveal at the end of the seminar!”

Rory, however, can’t take his mind off her clear, ringing voice, the way she asked about souls. Andy had said that life meant something different to everyone, and it was only now, in seeing the hollow shell of Elektra Shepherd—of Model #ES42—that Rory realized just how true those words were.

© 2013 by Beth Revis.

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Beth Revis

031610_revis_007Beth Revis is the NY Times Bestselling author of the young adult science fiction series, Across the Universe. The third and final book, Shades of Earth, came out in 2013, and she’s currently working on a new SF series. Beth lives in North Carolina with her husband and dog.