Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Turing Tests and Tongue Twisters

When Doug Hofstadter came to visit last year, he made a point that I've continued to marvel at. When we think of artificial intelligence, we usually think in terms of machines being able to do well what we do well. The usual standard is what is called the Truing test wherein if you cannot tell the difference between a person and a machine when you are interacting with it, and it happens to be a machine, then we can call it intelligent. The difficulty of the Turing test is generally thought to be creating a machine that is up to our level. But Hofstadter's point is that to pass the test it would also have to be down to our level as well, that is, it would have to make the sort of mistakes that we tend to make.

Our brains are wired to do wonderful things, but there are also things that trip it up, often quite simple ones. The kids have been playing with tongue twisters lately and they are something quite amazing. They are simple arrangements of syllables, but ones designed to exploit our neurological shortcomings. There is a reason why some strings of sounds are hard to say and a machine would likely not fall prey to them.

The latest favorite has been:

You know New York. you need New York. You Know you need unique New York.

But the one that is the most amazing to me is the bathroom humor classic:
Three smart fellows they felt smart.
All tongue twisters cause predictable mispronunciations, but the incredible thing about that one is that the way the brain errs causes a second different string of sounds that forms a distinct, but meaningful sentence. It's almost like a palindrome of error. Does anyone know any other that works that way?

If not, what are your favorite tongue twisters?