Universal Translator

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Mitt Romney Fails the Turing Test

Over at Balloon Juice, Dennis G. has an interesting piece titled “Following in the Footsteps of George Wallace," in which he argues that Mitt Romney is actually more egregious than America’s most renowned race-baiter, because at least Wallace was self-aware enough to know what he was doing.  Romney, Dennis argues, is just willing to say whatever terrible stuff seems likely to give him a bump with the Republican base, and that is – arguably – worse.

Like probably almost everybody, I find this kind of stuff fascinating.  Does Romney really believe the shit coming out of his mouth (no) or is he just pandering (yes)?  But at the end of the day, I also find it kind of pointless.  I don’t really care whether Mittens believes what he is saying . . . the fact that he is saying it is damning enough.

Alan Turing, unsung hero of WWII and probably one of the greatest geniuses our species ever produced, gave his name to one test for proving “consciousness.”  Turing postulated that if one could speak with a machine, and not know that one was speaking with a machine, then one would have to conclude that the machine was “conscious.” 

After all, isn’t that what we do every day?  We assume that the people with whom we deal are just as conscious as we are, but only because they look like us and react like we think we would react in their situation.  Technically, we cannot put ourselves in their place and we cannot know what they think . . . they could just be soulless animatronic robots (like Mitt Romney).   We assume that they aren’t because the alternative – that nobody else in the world is actually real, not the way we are – is to identify one’s self as a solipsistic character so lacking in empathy that one might only be labeled evil.

I find it useful to keep the Turing Test in mind whenever I come across articles like Dennis G.’s, because it helps remind me that it doesn’t matter whether Romney believes the shit spewing from his mouth, and that speculating about Romney’s actual core beliefs is really a pointless exercise.  It is enough for me that Romney says terrible things . . . I don’t have to worry about whether he believes them too.

I can assume that Mitt Romney is just a terrible robot, doing terrible stuff.  I don’t have to find out why he is this way, I don’t have to figure how he came to be such a damaged anima-person, I just have to know enough not to vote him into office.


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