Turing and Hayles

Alan Turing asked in his 1950 essay “Computing Machinery and Intelligence,” if machines could think, and more importantly, if they could produce responses indistinguishable from humans. He believed this was possible. Turing creating the “imitation game” in which a man, a woman, and a machine responded to questions from an investigator, and the investigator had to try to correctly determine which response came from which individual.

N Katherine Hayles critiqued the imitation game, which she calls the “Turing Test” in her book, How We Became Posthuman: Virtual Bodies in Cybernetics, Literature, and Informatics. Hayles analyzes Turing’s inclusion of gender in the game, writing, “by including gender, Turing implied that renegotiating the boundary between human and machine would involve more than transforming the question of ‘who can think’ into ‘what can think.'” She also asks the question, “Why does gender appear in this primal scene of humans meeting their evolutionary successors,  intelligent machines? What do gendered bodies have to do with the erasure of embodiment and the subsequent merging of machine and human intelligence in the figure of the cyborg?”

To answer Hayles’ questions, it is important to acknowledge that if machines are to function exactly like humans, then they inevitably fall into various categories of labor. Historically, certain jobs are considered feminine and others are masculine, thus a machine performing a feminine job would be programmed to behave like a woman. That’s at least part of the reason why Siri, a personal assistant, is a woman. But Siri is also a companion. The next question is, when the body is removed and all personality is evoked through the voice, how are Siri’s responses inherently feminine?  The answer to that question has to do with the very first chatterbot, Eliza.


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