What It Means to be Human and “A Working Theory of Love”

working-theory-of-love-scott-hutchins“You could argue that the fundamental question behind all literature is: ‘What does it mean to be human?’ Some people have even argued that storytelling itself is what makes us more than just monkeys with iPhones — that Homer created the modern consciousness, or that Shakespeare (as Harold Bloom has it) invented the human identity. In recent years, however, literature has lost a lot of ground on that score to evolutionary psychology, neurobiology and computer science, and particularly to the efforts of artificial intelligence researchers. So as we wait for the Singularity, when our iPhones will become sentient and Siri will start telling us what we can do for her, many of the savvier fiction writers have begun to come to grips with the fact that the tutelary spirit of the quest for the human may not be Dante or Emily Dickinson or Virginia Woolf, but Alan Turing, the British mathematician who helped start the revolution in computing.
Turing may be best known for his version of the Victorian-era Imitation Game, in which a judge receives written responses to his questions from a man and a woman behind a screen and tries to guess from the answers which is the man and which the woman. In Turing’s version, the messages are from a human and a computer; it was his contention that when a judge couldn’t tell the difference any longer, then a machine could be said to think like a human being. The Turing test has since become, at least in the popular imagination, the holy grail of artificial intelligence developers, as well as a conceit in contemporary fiction, and that conceit is at the heart of Scott Hutchins’s clever, funny and very entertaining first novel, ‘A Working Theory of Love.'” [. . .]    –James Hynes, The New York Times, November 21, 2012