Pippa Goldschmidt

the inspiration behind Pippa Goldschmidt’s poem, ‘The Imitation Game’

One of Turing’s many achievements was the creation of a test for artificial intelligence, which in effect defines this as a mimicry of human intelligence.

The first version of this test was actually called the imitation game, and as Turing described it, this consisted of a a computer and a man each trying to imitate a woman. Another person (a woman? Turing doesn’t say) then has the job of judging who is the better imitator, the man or the computer.

I thought it was extraordinary that the definition of artificial intelligence had been formulated in the language of gender differences. Did Turing think these differences were absolute? Or was he suggesting that computer and/or human intelligence were also as changeable or as mutable as the differences between men and women? What does it mean for a man to imitate a woman? Does the ability of a man to imitate a woman subtly undermine any apparent differences between the genders?

The obvious subtext to this aspect of his work is Turing’s own sexuality. At a time when male homosexuality was illegal, gay men felt under enormous pressure to adapt their behaviour to be seen to be straight. But it’s clear from Turing’s biography that he himself resisted such pressure, and up until his arrest, couldn’t see why he had to hide his sex life from the police.

Alan Turing was fascinated by the story of Snow White, and that may have been what motivated his death by a poisoned apple. Perhaps he wanted to be a woman, waiting for a man to bring him to life?

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