Passing Loebner’s Turing Test: A Case of Conflicting Discourse Functions

  • Sean Zdenek
Part of the Studies in Cognitive Systems book series (COGS, volume 30)


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.

Key words

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


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2003

Authors and Affiliations

  • Sean Zdenek
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of EnglishProgram in RhetoricUSA

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