Category Archives: Thought experiment

Thought experiment

The Technological Singularity – the moment in history that will be created when human intelligence can be digitized. When the speed and scope of our cognition is hitched to the price-performance curve of microprocessors, our “prog-ress” will double every couple of years according to Moore’s Law.  This was made popular by Vernor Vinge and has been widely used in science fiction writing and film, most recently in the Terminator TV series.  The accelerated change of hyper intelligence may change Moore’s Law from 18 month to 2 years to a much lower time scale like weeks, days or even minutes.

If or when such an event occurs, what place will humanity have in the world.  Does hyper intelligence equate to hyper wisdom? Unable to feel hunger or pain, would a machine intelligence have empathy for those that do?  Would intellectualising empathy be sufficient motive for a hyper intelligence to consider the humans who created it?


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Turing test

The Turing test is a proposal for a test of a machine’s capability to demonstrate intelligence.  It proceeds as follows: a human judge engages in a natural language conversation with one human and one machine, each of which try to appear human; if the judge cannot reliably tell which is which, then the machine is said to pass the test. ¹

Have you ever considered that some humans would fail the Turing test?  Seriously.  What makes a biological machine with a functional data processing unit in the form of a brain a human anyway?



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Lawrence Kohlberg

Another thought experiment (this one inspired very slightly by FloatyKatja‘s recent soup observations):

A woman was near death from a special kind of cancer. There was one drug that the doctors thought might save her. It was a form of radium that a druggist in the same town had recently discovered. The drug was expensive to make, but the druggist was charging ten times what the drug cost him to produce. He paid £200 for the radium and charged £2,000 for a small dose of the drug. The sick woman’s husband, Heinz, went to everyone he knew to borrow the money, but he could only get together about £1,000, which is half of what it cost. He told the druggist that his wife was dying and asked him to sell it cheaper or let him pay later. But the druggist said, “No, I discovered the drug and I’m going to make money from it.” So Heinz got desperate and broke into the man’s store to steal the drug for his wife.

Should Heinz have broken into the laboratory to steal the drug for his wife? Why or why not?

Katja was talking about soup, you see.  Heinz soup.  Get it?


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Friday’s Thought Experiment

Consider your gut reactions to the two following scenarios:

1st Scenario

There is a set of tracks which five repairmen are working on.  Around a bend there is an oncoming train. From your vantage point in a tower above the track you can see the train, but the five workers can’t (privilege of management). In a few seconds the train will hit and kill them all.  You can’t shout to them or warn them in any way because of the ear protectors they are wearing and their dedication to the task at hand that keeps them looking away from you.

Suddenly to realize that there is a lever nearby that you can pull that will divert the train onto some side tracks.  However, there is one repair man working on that track.  If the lever is pulled, the train will kill him.

Do you do nothing and allow five men to die, or do you pull the lever and cause the death of one man?

2nd Scenario

Same track. Same five men. Only this time, there is no lever.  However, there is a particularly large man at the edge of the tower, he’s the guy who would have been working alone on the other track.  If he were to fall, and hit the tracks below, it would stop the train.  He’s a very large man.  All you have to do is. . . give him a little push.

Do you do nothing and allow five men to die, or do you push the man and cause his death?

Assuming your gut answers were different . . . why?


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Seeing double

This is the scenario and it’s slightly geeky:

You are involved in a transporter accident similar to that which always seems to be occuring on Star Trek (why not just take the shuttle?) and an exact duplicate of you is produced.  Instead of one of you being “Evil Kirk” both are exactly the same.  This was also the sort of thing that The Prestige glossed over….

A transporter functions (for the sake of argument) by making a copy of your atoms in a remote location and then destroying the original atoms.  OK not destroying but converting them to energy.  This means that technically both versions of you are duplicates and the original no longer exists.  At least not in a form that could be considered you.

Which one is you?  If one duplicate dies is the other one you?


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The Lady, or the Tiger?

I was looking up thought experiments on t’Internet last night.  Look I do these sorts of things, OK.  I found this one which I’ve read before and thought I’d post it to see what you lovely blogging folk would say.

In an ancient land a “semi-barbaric King” rules.  He has an unusual form of trial justice for criminals.  Place the accused in an arena with two exits.  Behind one door was a beautiful woman and behind the other was a ravenous and slightly annoyed tiger.   The accused is given the choice of picking only one door. 

The door with the woman behind it leads to a declaration of innocence and as a reward he was required to marry the woman, regardless of previous marital status.

The door with the tiger behind it leads to a messy and noisy death as punishment for his crime.  Clearly he is guilty if he makes such a bad decision.

One day the king found that his daughter, the princess, had taken a lover far beneath her station.  The king, not being a progressive ruler, threw the man in prison and set a date for his trial in the arena.  When the trial day arrives the man looked to the princess for some indication of which door to pick.  The princess knows which door leads to the woman and which door leads to the tiger but is faced with a conundrum.  If she indicated the door with the tiger, then the man she loved would be killed on the spot; however, if she indicated the door with the lady, her lover would be forced to marry another woman and even though he would be alive she would never be with him again. Finally she does indicate a door, which the suitor then opens.

The question is:  Did the tiger come out of that door, or did the lady?
Not TiggerShe's a Wonder


Filed under Bad things happen, Reasons to be cheerful, Thought experiment