Are you an ideological robot?
Acton Institute Powerblog

Are you an ideological robot?

Since you’re reading this post I assume you spend a lot of time online. You likely engage between dozens and hundreds of people every day, which raises the question: How do you know the people you engage with on social media are not robots? How do you know the content you’re reading isn’t produced by some android? How do you know that I’m not a robot?

You could probably think of reasons why you assume I’m not a robot (i.e., a robot would be more interesting), but the most likely reason you’ve never mistaken me or other people you engage online for machines is because we communicate in a way that makes us sound like humans.

In 1950, the computer scientist Alan Turing came up with what is now known as the “Turing test.” As Wikipedia explains, the Turing test is,

[A] test of a machine’s ability to exhibit intelligent behavior equivalent to, or indistinguishable from, that of a human. Turing proposed that a human evaluator would judge natural language conversations between a human and a machine designed to generate human-like responses. The evaluator would be aware that one of the two partners in conversation is a machine, and all participants would be separated from one another. The conversation would be limited to a text-only channel such as a computer keyboard and screen so the result would not depend on the machine’s ability to render words as speech. If the evaluator cannot reliably tell the machine from the human, the machine is said to have passed the test. The test does not check the ability to give correct answers to questions, only how closely answers resemble those a human would give.

Several years ago economist Bryan Caplan proposed a similar test to determine if we are “ideological robots.”

Do you think you can restate views you oppose in a way that would pass an ideological Turing test? Let’s try an experiment in the comments section. Take an issue that we frequently discuss here on the PowerBlog (e.g., free trade, minimum wage, income inequality) and try to explain the position of someone you disagree with in a way they would agree with. Can you make an argument so convincingly that it could be mistaken for the views of someone who holds the opposite opinion of your own?

Joe Carter

Joe Carter is a Senior Editor at the Acton Institute. Joe also serves as an editor at the The Gospel Coalition, a communications specialist for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, and as an adjunct professor of journalism at Patrick Henry College. He is the editor of the NIV Lifehacks Bible and co-author of How to Argue like Jesus: Learning Persuasion from History's Greatest Communicator (Crossway).