Testing Turing

49

Melissa was about to chuck the dang laptop out the window, but then remembered that the office building had no windows. Perhaps this was the reason for that particular design element. Seriously though, she thought, for a company that is supposedly on the leading edge of technology, why do they struggle so much to get new employees set up with basic software? She had been here for nearly three months, and so far had only been able to type up memos since she didn’t have access to many of the programs she needed to perform the job for which she had been hired.

It will be settled soon, she tried to console herself, but she had at least one more interaction with the support center to finish. She turned back to her screen and examined the IM window in which the friendly “local” help center was attempting to work through her latest issue. She had only looked away for a minute, but a wall of text was waiting for her.

She read the first few lines, which did nothing to ease her frustration. “I tried this already,” she angrily typed back, fingers audibly pounding the keys as if this would convey her mood to whatever was on the other side of the conversation.

Melissa glanced back at the IM window. Another wall of text had already popped up.  Although she was only twenty-five and felt ridiculous yearning for the “good old days,” she certainly missed the times when one could call customer service and talk to a real human being, rather than rely on a poor computer program to spit back solutions to whatever it decided your problem was from the keywords it recognized.

Skimming the latest solution, she grew more irritated. “That’s not my problem,” she typed back, “I was able to install the program just fine, but whenever I try to run it the whole system freezes.”

Sure enough, another wall of text appeared with inhuman speed. “I need help, not an operating manual,” she typed with increasing agitation. “Can I please speak to with a real live person?” she asked.

“I assure you, I am quite human,” came the response, again almost instantaneously. “My name is at the top of the window.”

She glanced up at the header bar. “Bill Turing? That sounds like a computer name if I ever heard one,” she typed back.

“I’m serious, check the company directory,” he/it replied.

“How cute. You have an employee profile and everything,” she typed back sarcastically.

“Cute or otherwise, its my name. Maybe that’s why I ended up in this job. Anyway, have you tried the last remedy?”

Giving in, she scrolled up and followed the instructions. Sure enough, installing the plugin worked. “Thanks.” she typed back quickly before closing the window, worried that she may have made a complete fool of herself. She felt slightly embarrassed. She was usually very careful to not let her temper get the better of her while at work, and began to worry if she had offended someone. She shook her head, considering the very real possibility that she was worrying about offending a program- no one could possibly type that quickly. At least, person or not, it was still just a entity on the computer to her.

Noticing the time, she groaned inwardly, realizing that she had wasted yet another Friday afternoon trying to resolve software issues. She grabbed her purse and shut down her computer. It was time to call it a day and meet the girls from accounting for a drink at the local bar. She certainly needed to unwind a bit.

Even if he was real, she reasoned as she walked to her car, the company had thousands of employees. Chances are they’d never meet.

***

“Hi, I’m Bill Turing,” he said as he offered his hand.

She almost spat her beer at him in shock. She managed to contain herself, but in her coughing/choking fit ended up with liquid in her nose, a sensation she had only experienced once in recent years when she had tried retronasal breathing in her wine appreciation class. She had made quite the fool of herself then as well, and had been very glad she hadn’t made her first attempt when tasting a red. Still, both incidents had left her with a new appreciation of the “nose” of her beverage of choice.

“And you are?” he asked as she finished coughing.

“Clumsy,” she replied, trying to sidestep the question and hoping he would give her up as a lost cause.

“I gathered,” he said with a laugh, “but I was looking for something along the lines of a name.”

She looked over her shoulder, hoping her friends would somehow rescue her from this awkward encounter, but as they seemed engrossed in something on someone’s phone, there was no hope of reprieve there. “Melissa Keller,” she finally offered.

“Ah, I can understand the sudden clumsiness. Surprised to see that I’m real?” he asked with a wink.

“You’re certainly looking very lifelike, but I’m afraid the jury is still out on that one,” she managed.

Melissa desperately looked over at the friends, trying to send their “rescue me” signal, but they now appeared to be too deep into an animated debate about the merits of various appetizers to notice her peril. Resigned to what she was sure was going to be an awkward conversation, she turned back to Bill.

“Don’t worry about it,” he said with a laugh. “It’s far from the most ridiculous thing I’ve heard on those cases, and at least you had a legitimate problem.”

“I’ve spent enough time waiting for the help center to figure things out, so I’ve learned to at least try a few basic solutions before placing a case.”

“Ah, yes, the magic of turning things off and on again. It surprises me how many people don’t know that trick. I’ve considered adding that to our call holding soundtrack. Could save us a bit of trouble.”

Despite their rocky start, Melissa found herself actually enjoying her evening with Bill. They bonded, as she had with many of her coworkers, over a mutual dislike of the various company procedures that ranged from inefficient to completely idiotic.

As she and her friends were packing up to leave, he extended his hand to help her off the stool. “So, have you reached a verdict?” he asked.

She was momentarily confused, but the memory of her earlier blunder came crashing back all too quickly, bringing a blush to her cheeks that the dim lighting of the bar didn’t quite manage to conceal. “I don’t know,” she said in what she hoped was a sassy manner to compensate. “You’ve presented quite the argument for your humanity, but it may take several more rounds of experimentation to reach a firm conclusion.”

“Thanks, I guess,” he said with a laugh as they walked out the door, “probably the best I could hope for with a scientist.”

Melissa began to walk off to her car, but turned back on a sudden impulse. “Would you be interested in another round of experimentation tomorrow afternoon? I have a bottle of Riesling, and to the best of my knowledge, no one has yet tried crossing the fields of wine appreciation and artificial intelligence before.

“Sounds lovely,” smiling broadly, he took her hand and walked off to her car. “Wait- whose intelligence are you calling artificial?”

***

“Convinced yet?” he asked as he broke off the kiss. They had enjoyed a bottle of wine and a movie before Bill had brought up the supposed purpose of his visit.

“Getting there,” she replied with a contented smile.

“Guess I’ll need to try something more creative then,” he said with a sly sideways glance.

“What do you have in mind, Mr. Maybe-Computer?” Melissa said provocatively.

“Several things, though I think I may have to start by doing something about that attitude of yours,” he said with a significant glare. “I would think you’d want to be a bit more respectful of what must either be a marvel of modern technology or else one of the cleverest minds you’ll ever meet if he could confuddle you into thinking he were the former.” Although his expression was still relaxed, a tendril of anxiety crept through Megan’s insides, giving her the vague impression she may have bitten off more than she had intended when she had invited him home with her.

“Oh? But I haven’t finished yet! There are a few more things I could try. Such as this!” She giggled as she pinched his arm.

“Ow! What do you think you are doing?” he cried out in mock horror.

“Just testing your reactions,” she teased.

“Oh I’ll show you reactions,” he lunged across the sofa and deftly grabbed her before she had a chance to back away. A few seconds later, she found herself face down across his lap. She gasped in shock as she felt his hand rest on her bottom.

“And just what do you think this will accomplish?” she asked, realizing that she was in a rather ridiculous position to keep up the pretense of her investigation, as if the whole thing wasn’t ridiculous enough already.

“Just being persuasive,” he stated simply as he lifted his hand and brought it down with a firm swat.

“Doesn’t seem too persuasive to me,” she spat back.

“Oh, just wait. It’s the kind of argument that can really sneak up on you,” he replied as he swatted her again, more sharply this time.

Their banter continued until she was gasping too hard to make a coherent reply, at which point he drew her up to sit beside him again.

“Human enough for you?” he asked, pausing to stroke her bottom as she continued to squirm. “Met any robots with this sort of functionality?”

“I don’t know. Not personally, though I remember reading about something called a Darius before.” She knew better than to be cheeky in her current situation, but knowing something is a bad idea and having the sense to act on that knowledge are two different things.

Either Bill had different tastes in literature or was not impressed with her recall, as he emitted a low growl as he resumed the spanking. Her bottom grew redder and redder, and by the time he finished she was becoming quite vocal. Sensing she couldn’t take much more, he stopped and pulled her up into a sitting position on his lap.

“Convinced yet?” he asked again, stroking her hair, before adding with a smirk, “or perhaps do you need to submit your findings for peer review?”

“I don’t think we need to go there just yet. I can think of a few more experiments I’d like to try to solidify things first.” With that, she purposely upset her balance, sending them both sprawling onto the floor.

4 thoughts on “Testing Turing

  1. Definitely an interesting twist to the Turing test, and Bill clearly seems to have more interest in female anatomy than his famous relative. After several interesting discussions with Xerox machines, I have come to the conclusion that it’s not their rationality, but their irrationality that makes them most human — e.g. their ability to believe that there is a sheet stuck somewhere inside them when there clearly isn’t. I haven’t tried spanking them yet, though. Kicking seems much safer.

    1. I’ve never thought of spanking the Xerox before. Certainly deserves it, particularly after tantrums involving toner. Kicking does seem safer (or at least less likely to end in awkward conversations with HR), though I’m more fond of talking nicely to the thing. Of course, when the argument turns sour I’ll just try turning the thing off and on again. If only the same approach worked with irrational people as well. . .

  2. Have you read Janna Evan’s novel on Turning and Goetel? It’s a discourse on *perceived reality*. Maybe Idealism had gotten it right in the first place? She is a Philosopher/Scientist, a twenty first century Renaissance woman. “There are mathematical truths that can’t be proven” Even science has a starting point of faith. But maybe not all that personal nor involved. And we are a factor of our cosmic environment. Turning’s genius leads us to the next level of evolution. His dream was “organic machinery”

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