Passing Loebner's Turing Test: A Case of Conflicting Discourse Functions1

Author: Zdenek, S.

Source: Minds and Machines, Volume 11, Number 1, February 2001 , pp. 53-76(24)

Publisher: Springer

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This paper argues that the Turing test is based on a fixed and de-contextualized view of communicative competence. According to this view, a machine that passes the test will be able to communicate effectively in a variety of other situations. But the de-contextualized view ignores the relationship between language and social context, or, to put it another way, the extent to which speakers respond dynamically to variations in discourse function, formality level, social distance/solidarity among participants, and participants' relative degrees of power and status (Holmes, 1992). In the case of the Loebner Contest, a present day version of the Turing test, the social context of interaction can be interpreted in conflicting ways. For example, Loebner discourse is defined 1) as a friendly, casual conversation between two strangers of equal power, and 2) as a one-way transaction in which judges control the conversational floor in an attempt to expose contestants that are not human. This conflict in discourse function is irrelevant so long as the goal of the contest is to ensure that only thinking, human entities pass the test. But if the function of Loebner discourse is to encourage the production of software that can pass for human on the level of conversational ability, then the contest designers need to resolve this ambiguity in discourse function, and thus also come to terms with the kind of competence they are trying to measure.

Keywords: Grice; Loebner Contest; Turing test; communicative competence; cooperative principle; discourse function; linguistic politeness

Document Type: Regular Paper

Affiliations: Program in Rhetoric, Department of English, Carnegie Mellon University, PA, USA; E-mail:

Publication date: February 1, 2001

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