Monthly Archives: September 2010

The Turing Test as Gender Discrimination

I jumped into discussion of a comment by Greg Laden on Facebook that touched on the Turing test.

There was a comment by Dan Fincke that got me interested:

indeed, at this point I’m generally more impressed when I’m convinced a girl talking to me online is NOT a robot

My reply:


Ironically enough, the Turing test as presented by Turing in his famous paper is not as generic as most people think. A male observer compares the conversation coming from a female correspondent and a program, and is supposed to pick out which is the female. So your comment fits right into Turing’s original test conditions.

One can speculate that Turing’s own gender identity issues had something to do with him casting it in that way. The difference between the somewhat-mysterious other gender and a program trying to imitate a female may have been considered by Turing as a more difficult for a male observer, and thus a slightly lower bar as a sufficient criterion for intelligence in a computer program. Or it could be that he just forgot to clarify that the imitation game with the computer involved could be gender-neutral if we wanted to do so.

Greg Laden jumped back into the discussion:

Dan, given a recent conversation on facebook, I’m impressed when a girl talking to me on line is NOT some guy who is pretending to be a girl but really looks like ZZ Top.

Wesley, interesting. I think but I could be wrong, that most of the first order (or should I say first generation) descriptions of the Turin test do not say that. I’m not sure if I’ve ever read the original (I think the first place I saw it was in something written by Gardner).

And my response:

Greg, you are right that most descriptions of the Turing test after Turing are phrased more generically. In the original paper, Turing says:

The new form of the problem can be described’ in terms of a game which we call the ‘imitation game’. It is played with three people, a man (A), a woman (B), and an interrogator (C) who may be of either sex. The interrogator stays in a room apart from the other two. The object of the game for the interrogator is to determine which of the other two is the man and which is the woman. He knows them by labels X and Y, and at the end of the game he says either ‘X is A and Y is B’ or ‘X is B and Y is A’. The interrogator is allowed to put questions to A and B thus:

C: Will X please tell me the length of his or her hair?

Now suppose X is actually A, then A must answer. It is A’s {p.434}object in the game to try and cause C to make the wrong identification. His answer might therefore be

‘My hair is shingled, and the longest strands, are about nine inches long.’

In order that tones of voice may not help the interrogator the answers should be written, or better still, typewritten. The ideal arrangement is to have a teleprinter communicating between the two rooms. Alternatively the question and answers can be repeated by an intermediary. The object of the game for the third player (B) is to help the interrogator. The best strategy for her is probably to give truthful answers. She can add such things as ‘I am the woman, don’t listen to him!’ to her answers, but it will avail nothing as the man can make similar remarks.

We now ask the question, ‘What will happen when a machine takes the part of A in this game?’ Will the interrogator decide wrongly as often when the game is played like this as he does when the game is played between a man and a woman? These questions replace our original, ‘Can machines think?’

Turing does himself later refer to the conditions of the game he introduced more generically, which probably licenses everybody else to treat the test as gender-neutral.

It might be urged that when playing the ‘imitation game’ the best strategy for the machine may possibly be something other than imitation of the behaviour of a man. This may be, but I think it is unlikely that there is any great effect of this kind. In any case there is no intention to investigate here the theory of the game, and it will be assumed that the best strategy is to try to provide answers that would naturally be given by a man.

But I still find it interesting that Turing’s explicit description of the “imitation game” is a *gender-discrimination* test, even with the computer in play.

(I’ll note here that my recall of the original did not include the note that the observer could be either male or female, and that vitiates part of my speculation from the first comment I made above.)

Price of Misunderstanding?

Miriam Markowitz has a piece in The Nation about George Price and the Price equation, a significant advance in mathematics for population biology. Along the way, she discusses this as resolving a problem left by Charles Darwin.

This conclusion left a paradox unresolved in Darwin’s otherwise elegant theory. He insisted that natural selection acts on the individual, that it “tends only to make each organic being as perfect as, or slightly more perfect than” its competitors; it would “never produce in a being anything injurious to itself, for natural selection acts solely by and for the good of each.” Yet his only explanation for the evolution of sterile insects was the good of the group.

The quotes used by Markowitz to substantiate her claim that Darwin had an insistence that natural selection acts on individuals do no such thing. Both quotes are found in the context of a passage where Darwin is trying to explain what natural selection does. I’m going to quote much more of the passage to make it clear how those parts lifted by Markowitz don’t support her argument.

The foregoing remarks lead me to say a few words on the protest lately made by some naturalists, against the utilitarian doctrine that every detail of structure has been produced for the good of its possessor. They believe that very many structures have been created for beauty in the eyes of man, or for mere variety. This doctrine, if true, would be absolutely fatal to my theory. Yet I fully admit that many structures are of no direct use to their possessors. Physical conditions probably have had some little effect on structure, quite independently of any good thus gained. Correlation of growth has no doubt played a most important part, and a useful modification of one part will often have entailed on other parts diversified changes of no direct use. So again characters which formerly were useful, or which formerly had arisen from correlation of growth, or from other unknown cause, may reappear from the law of reversion, though now of no direct use. The effects of sexual selection, when displayed in beauty to charm the females, can be called useful only in rather a forced sense. But by far the most important consideration is that the chief part of the organisation of every being is simply due to inheritance; and consequently, though each being assuredly is well fitted for its place in nature, many structures now have no direct relation to the habits of life of each species. Thus, we can hardly believe that the webbed feet of the upland goose or of the frigate-bird are of special use to these birds; we cannot believe that the same bones in the arm of the monkey, in the fore leg of the horse, in the wing of the bat, and in the flipper of the seal, are of special use to these animals. We may safely attribute these structures to inheritance. But to the progenitor of the upland goose and of the frigate-bird, webbed feet no doubt were as useful as they now are to the most aquatic of existing birds. So we may believe that the progenitor of the seal had not a flipper, but a foot with five toes fitted for walking or grasping; and we may further venture to believe that the several bones in the limbs of the monkey, horse, and bat, which have been inherited from a common progenitor, were formerly of more special use to that progenitor, or its progenitors, than they now are to these animals having such widely diversified habits. Therefore we may infer that these several bones might have been acquired through natural selection, subjected formerly, as now, to the several laws of inheritance, reversion, correlation of growth, etc. Hence every detail of structure in every living creature (making some little allowance for the direct action of physical conditions) may be viewed, either as having been of special use to some ancestral form, or as being now of special use to the descendants of this form–either directly, or indirectly through the complex laws of growth.

Natural selection cannot possibly produce any modification in any one species exclusively for the good of another species; though throughout nature one species incessantly takes advantage of, and profits by, the structure of another. But natural selection can and does often produce structures for the direct injury of other species, as we see in the fang of the adder, and in the ovipositor of the ichneumon, by which its eggs are deposited in the living bodies of other insects. If it could be proved that any part of the structure of any one species had been formed for the exclusive good of another species, it would annihilate my theory, for such could not have been produced through natural selection. Although many statements may be found in works on natural history to this effect, I cannot find even one which seems to me of any weight. It is admitted that the rattlesnake has a poison-fang for its own defence and for the destruction of its prey; but some authors suppose that at the same time this snake is furnished with a rattle for its own injury, namely, to warn its prey to escape. I would almost as soon believe that the cat curls the end of its tail when preparing to spring, in order to warn the doomed mouse. But I have not space here to enter on this and other such cases.

Natural selection will never produce in a being anything injurious to itself, for natural selection acts solely by and for the good of each. No organ will be formed, as Paley has remarked, for the purpose of causing pain or for doing an injury to its possessor. If a fair balance be struck between the good and evil caused by each part, each will be found on the whole advantageous. After the lapse of time, under changing conditions of life, if any part comes to be injurious, it will be modified; or if it be not so, the being will become extinct, as myriads have become extinct.

Natural selection tends only to make each organic being as perfect as, or slightly more perfect than, the other inhabitants of the same country with which it has to struggle for existence. And we see that this is the degree of perfection attained under nature. The endemic productions of New Zealand, for instance, are perfect one compared with another; but they are now rapidly yielding before the advancing legions of plants and animals introduced from Europe. Natural selection will not produce absolute perfection, nor do we always meet, as far as we can judge, with this high standard under nature. The correction for the aberration of light is said, on high authority, not to be perfect even in that most perfect organ, the eye. If our reason leads us to admire with enthusiasm a multitude of inimitable contrivances in nature, this same reason tells us, though we may easily err on both sides, that some other contrivances are less perfect. Can we consider the sting of the wasp or of the bee as perfect, which, when used against many attacking animals, cannot be withdrawn, owing to the backward serratures, and so inevitably causes the death of the insect by tearing out its viscera?

The context shows that “being” in the above passage refers not to each individual in a population, but rather to species. I’ve bolded the original snippets quoted by Markowitz and italicized the further context that is either incongruous with or contradictory to the notion that what is under discussion is a property of an individual. One doesn’t usually talk of individuals going extinct, nor of individuals “rapidly yielding” to introduced species.

Of course, Markowitz is not alone in making the mistake of taking the quoted parts as referring to individuals. She also quotes Richard Dawkins to that effect, and it isn’t difficult to find Stephen Jay Gould using one of the same snippets to the same end in his book, The Structure of Evolutionary Biology. But common error is still error, and it is worth pointing out that the original source, when read for comprehension, is not making the claim of level of action of natural selection that some of Darwin’s readers insist it does.

But, you might say, what about Markowitz’s claim concerning Darwin and social insects? Does it show Darwin arguing the group selection line of “for the good of the species”. Let’s look at Darwin summarizing his response to the problem of “neuter insects” from the first edition of Origin of Species:

With these facts before me, I believe that natural selection, by acting on the fertile parents, could form a species which should regularly produce neuters, either all of large size with one form of jaw, or all of small size with jaws having a widely different structure; or lastly, and this is our climax of difficulty, one set of workers of one size and structure, and simultaneously another set of workers of a different size and structure;–a graduated series having been first formed, as in the case of the driver ant, and then the extreme forms, from being the most useful to the community, having been produced in greater and greater numbers through the natural selection of the parents which generated them; until none with an intermediate structure were produced.

Thus, as I believe, the wonderful fact of two distinctly defined castes of sterile workers existing in the same nest, both widely different from each other and from their parents, has originated. We can see how useful their production may have been to a social community of insects, on the same principle that the division of labour is useful to civilised man. As ants work by inherited instincts and by inherited tools or weapons, and not by acquired knowledge and manufactured instruments, a perfect division of labour could be effected with them only by the workers being sterile; for had they been fertile, they would have intercrossed, and their instincts and structure would have become blended. And nature has, as I believe, effected this admirable division of labour in the communities of ants, by the means of natural selection. But I am bound to confess, that, with all my faith in this principle, I should never have anticipated that natural selection could have been efficient in so high a degree, had not the case of these neuter insects convinced me of the fact. I have, therefore, discussed this case, at some little but wholly insufficient length, in order to show the power of natural selection, and likewise because this is by far the most serious special difficulty, which my theory has encountered. The case, also, is very interesting, as it proves that with animals, as with plants, any amount of modification in structure can be effected by the accumulation of numerous, slight, and as we must call them accidental, variations, which are in any manner profitable, without exercise or habit having come into play. For no amount of exercise, or habit, or volition, in the utterly sterile members of a community could possibly have affected the structure or instincts of the fertile members, which alone leave descendants. I am surprised that no one has advanced this demonstrative case of neuter insects, against the well-known doctrine of Lamarck.

Darwin’s explanation of the problem of neuter insect castes was not, as Markowitz asserts, just “the good of the group”, for if one reads the passage carefully, “community” in Darwin’s passage is a reference to the fertile parents, and not just a fuzzy “group”.

The “paradox” of individual action versus group selection attributed to Darwin is not supported by the examples purportedly showing such. One could charge Darwin justly with being somewhat imprecise for our modern tastes and reliance on jargon, but if one carefully reads what Darwin wrote, the concepts are clear enough.

An Idea for the New Public Works Initiative

What should we do to employ more people? What should we do to get closer to energy independence?

What if we did something that helps both at the same time?

A major issue with alternative energy systems like solar and wind power is that it isn’t (yet) quite as cost-efficient as oil, coal, or gas. There isn’t yet an economy-of-scale to help reduce costs on these systems. Early adopters carry a big cost burden for the initial installation.

Producers of alternative energy systems could use more orders to establish their businesses and fund further research and development. But with a big economic downturn going on, customers who have enough money to finance the equipment are rarer than ever.

So here’s the idea: use the next big government push to employ people to do so as alternative energy installers, and fund financing to allow people to afford the alternative energy system being installed. This gets people working at jobs that are going to be in demand for decades to come, allows alternative energy manufacturers to get scaled up sooner, and reduces our energy dependence on foreign oil and gas. If we specify that systems installed will be grid-ready, but also able to go off-grid for completely self-reliant households, we would also improve emergency preparedness, too.

Yeah, there’s lots of details to be worked out. But I think that there way more positives going for this than negatives.

UF Gators v. USF Bulls (2010/09/11)

I took some more photos from the stands during the game this past weekend. This time I used the Nikon D2Xs and my Nikkor 70-200mm f/2.8 VR lens. What the lens lacks in the reach of the 70-300mm f/4-5.6 G lens I used last week it makes up for in resolution. Unfortunately, it is physically a much larger, heavier lens. Fortunately, the six-inch lens rule at the stadium is discretionary, and I hope that the gate guards I have to pass going in are lenient in their discretion on that point at future games. Otherwise, I’ll have a longish walk back to the vehicle to stash it. Parking is an issue for the Gator games.

First UF play of the game… Brantley gets sacked hard by a USF defender who found the front door wiiiiiiiiide open.

Second UF play of the game, and Pouncey’s hike goes bouncy. Things were looking a bit discouraging right there at the outset.

Don’t get too excited, that’s just Demps receiving a punt, I think.

Brantley showing his throwing form.

And Thompson showing his receiving form. Unfortunately, that one passed through his hands without stopping.

Here’s Moore going to extra effort to make a catch of a Brantley pass. The fuzziness on the left is a large USF fan standing up and obscuring part of my lens. That’s just a part of the magic of taking photos from the seats.

Moore takes in an easier pass, then turns and runs it in for six.

This would be a nice pic of Trattou running in an interception for six points but for the over-enthusiastic Gator fan a couple of rows forward of me.

Gators get another interception.

Here’s a sequence of a reception by Moore… he’s covered pretty well by the Bulls defense, but the ball is coming anyway.

And Moore is off to the races.

A Bulls defender knocks a pass away.

I think this last one is a punt reception with a fair catch called.

I did write the UF Athletic Association asking about getting a press pass for the sidelines. They said that they have already given out all the press passes for this year. OK, I said, what do I need to do to get on the waiting list for next year? I haven’t heard back on that.

A Modest (Tax) Proposal

I think I agree with Rep. Boehner that our wealthiest citizens should not be excluded from receiving a tax break. The GOP claims those citizens can make things better for the rest of us, if only the government doesn’t tax them personally. That has an obvious corollary, that those 2% of citizens have a lot to do with the state of what the other 98% are getting in their paycheck.

But I would offer a different system for calculating the tax break for our wealthiest citizens.

Those earning over $250,000 should be able to apply for, and receive, the tax cut amount that the median income of the rest of the workforce in the USA receives that year. This would eliminate any concerns that the tax cut would impose too much debt over the next ten years, as continuing the Bush tax cuts would. It is a fair amount, one that half of the rest of the country would be thrilled to get.

An effective tax structure would be one that, in control system terms, produced positive feedback for the wealthiest citizens helping to make things better for the rest of us, and negative feedback when they insist on making things worse. Right now, they have a cultural structure in the private sector that gives positive feedback for making things worse. Recently, some of our wealthiest citizens got huge salaries and bonuses for gouging wage concessions out of other citizens, outsourcing other citizens’ jobs, and generating more “productivity” by laying off part of the work force and making the rest of the workforce maintain the same output (a strategy only slightly reworked from Moses’ Pharoah commanding that brick production go on as before, but without providing straw).

There’s nothing I know of in the tax code now that would associate how well the rest of the country is doing with the 2% that the GOP claims vociferously are in charge of the employment and compensation situation in the country. Having lots of underpaid, overworked citizens apparently has no effect on anything that 2% wants.

However, if the amount of the tax burden is, even in part, tied to the median income of the rest of the working public, there would be some influence — no matter how tiny — toward making it pay for that top 2% to care that the median wage of the rest of the citizenry should go up over time.

Unfortunately, I think that the effect would be swamped by the massive compensation packages the “job creators” get for making those jobs less pleasant, less available, and less worthwhile for their fellow citizens. But tying tax burden for the wealthiest citizens to how well their fellow citizens are doing would seem to me to be a small first step in the direction we need to go. If they improve things for everybody, then great — their tax burden goes down. If they make things worse, their tax burden goes up. Maybe the tax burden should be tied to change in the median wage per year to assess whether the tax amount goes down — or up. More may need to be done to put that amount on a par with what the cultural (private sector) financial feedback systems tell our wealthiest citizens, but adopting the concept would make a start.

Gators v. RedHawks (2010/09/04)

My dad, sister, brother-in-law, and I went to the University of Florida Gators versus University of Miami (Ohio) RedHawks game last Saturday. I carried along a Fujifilm J10 point-and-shoot camera and my Nikon D2Xs with a Nikkor 70-300mm f/3.5-5.6 G lens to take some photos.

We got there a bit early to try to find a parking place not too terribly far from the stadium. Mike dropped the rest of us off, and we settled down in a plaza at 1st Ave and 20th Street. There was quite the cavalcade of fans streaming through there as we waited for Mike to show up again. That included this pair of guys who were taking fandom to a whole other level.

Gator fans on stilts

Back in 1980-82, I’d have been one of the folks down at the sidelines taking photos for the Independent Florida Alligator. For this game, I was up in Section 13 instead, which is a ways from the field.

View from Section 13

View from Section 13

The game was scheduled for a noon kickoff. It was a partly cloudy day, which meant that we baked in the stands. I sweated profusely. My dad, who stayed relatively dry, says I get that from mom. There were times when the Nikon got a bit uncomfortable to touch, being all black.

I was interested to see just what sort of images I could get from the stands using a consumer-grade lens, if not a consumer-grade camera. So the remainder of the photos go some way toward demonstrating that.

Now, about the game… Football is not something I have any sort of deep knowledge about. But I’ve been going to UF Gators games for 40+ years now, so I’ve seen a bit of everything. The Gators v. RedHawks matchup was one of the weirder games that I’ve seen. What the Gators communicated to the world was a mix of messages comprising individual talent but some poor team coordination, and some unpreparedness. The RedHawks marched down the field and put three points on the board with a field goal, obviating the “Bleacher Report” prediction of a possible shutout. The Gator defense denied the RedHawks any touchdown all day, but ended up allowing four field goals.

Pass received

RedHawk pass

We saw a lot of the RedHawks’ quarterback getting the pass off. Either the RedHawks are better than pundits were giving them credit for, or we UF fans have some definite rough times ahead.

Brantley hands off to Demps

And another thing we saw a lot of was UF quarterback Brantley handing the ball off to Demps. What we got was a bunch of small yardage plays and one touchdown run, IIRC.

Touchdown pass

At the far end of the field, Brantley connected with this receiver at the 5 yard line. He turned and ran it in for six points.



We were also fortunate to see a scene like the above four times in the game, IIRC. Because the defense did so well at making turnovers, we had the curious experience of seeing a Gator total yardage figure that, for much of the game, was less than the Gator score.



Excitement on the RedHawk sideline

I think the above is my favorite photo from the game. The RedHawk coach on the sideline emotes well.