Alan Turing y la percepción extransensorial

Alan Turing, cuyo centenario celebramos en 2012, nos dejó una de las respuestas más controvertidas a la pregunta de si algún día podremos construir máquinas que piensen y cómo sabremos si efectivamente piensan. Su conocida propuesta constituye lo que hoy conocemos como Test de Turing: Si un observador neutral conversa con un ordenador y un ser humano y no sabe distinguir quién es quién, entonces habrá que atribuir al ordenador la misma “inteligencia” que al humano. En su artículo clásico “Computing machinery and intelligence” defiende la idea de que algún día se diseñará una máquina que pueda pasar la prueba y se adelanta a todas las críticas que puedan plantearse. Es difícil contener una sonrisa ante alguna de estas posibles “críticas”. Vean, vean…

(9) The argument from extrasensory perception

I assume that the reader is familiar with the idea of extrasensory perception, and the meaning of the four items of it, viz., telepathy, clairvoyance, precognition and psychokinesis. These disturbing phenomena seem to deny all our usual scientific ideas. How we should like to discredit them! Unfortunately the statistical evidence, at least for telepathy, is overwhelming. It is very difficult to rearrange one’s ideas so as to fit these new facts in. Once one has accepted them it does not seem a very big step to believe in ghosts and bogies. The idea that our bodies move simply according to the known laws of physics, together with some others not yet discovered but somewhat similar, would be one of the first to go.

This argument is to my mind quite a strong one. One can say in reply that many scientific theories seem to remain workable in practice, in spite of clashing with ESP; that in fact one can get along very nicely if one forgets about it. This is rather cold comfort, and one fears that thinking is just the kind of phenomenon where ESP may be especially relevant.

A more specific argument based on ESP might run as follows: “Let us play the imitation game, using as witnesses a man who is good as a telepathic receiver, and a digital computer. The interrogator can ask such questions as ‘What suit does the card in my right hand belong to?’ The man by telepathy or clairvoyance gives the right answer 130 times out of 400 cards. The machine can only guess at random, and perhaps gets 104 right, so the interrogator makes the right identification.” There is an interesting possibility which opens here. Suppose the digital computer contains a random number generator. Then it will be natural to use this to decide what answer to give. But then the random number generator will be subject to the psychokinetic powers of the interrogator. Perhaps this psychokinesis might cause the machine to guess right more often than would be expected on a probability calculation, so that the interrogator might still be unable to make the right identification. On the other hand, he might be able to guess right without any questioning, by clairvoyance. With ESP anything may happen.

If telepathy is admitted it will be necessary to tighten our test up. The situation could be regarded as analogous to that which would occur if the interrogator were talking to himself and one of the competitors was listening with his ear to the wall. To put the competitors into a “telepathy-proof room” would satisfy all requirements.


Turing, A. M. (1950). Computing machinery and intellingece. Mind, 59, 433-460. doi: 10.1093/mind/LIX.236.433


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