Simone Natale (Loughborough University), ‘Unveiling the Biographies of Media: The Case of the Turing Test’
Scholars in literature and critical theory have shown that one of the key ways through which we form our images, opinions, and understandings about reality is storytelling (Cavarero, 2000; Olney, 1972). Narratives allow us to make sense of events and situations, representing a crucial mediator between our experiences and our worldviews. Yet, within communication and media studies, few attempts have been made to unveil the role of narrative and storytelling in the formation of our ideas and views about media. Employing a theoretical approach called “biographies of media” (Natale, 2016), which looks at how histories of media are constructed through recurring narrative patterns, this paper proposes to address this gap. Focusing on the case study of the Turing test, I will show that technical ideas and projects have a cultural life that goes beyond their impact in technological innovation and debates, as they turn into popular narratives that circulate widely within the public sphere and inform our perception of new media.
Why did the Turing test become so influential beyond the technical and philosophical debate about Artificial Intelligence in which it originated? I will argue that, in order to answer this question, we need to consider the narrative dimension of the Turing test. The test, in fact, turned a technical project into a plot that follows the pattern of duels and sport confrontation. In so doing, it replicates an established narrative trope in media history where technologies “trick” the human – as, for instance, in the stories about early cinema’s “train effect” or about the panicking audiences of Orson Welles’ War of the Worlds broadcast. Looking at the Turing test in terms of narrative, in this sense, helps unveil something which is usually neglected: how it contributed to popularizing a way for discussing computers in terms of a challenge between the human and the machine.
Simone Natale is Lecturer in Communication and Media Studies at Loughborough University, UK. His research focuses on the relationships between media and the imagination, on digital media and culture, and on media archaeology. He is the author of a monograph, Supernatural Entertainments: Victorian Spiritualism and the Rise of Modern Media Culture (Pennsylvania State University Press, 2016) and of articles published in some of the leading journals in his areas of interest, such as the Journal of Communication, New Media and Society, Communication Theory, and Media, Culture and Society.