Background

A characteristic of social networking systems such as Facebook or Twitter is the opportunity to post status updates, or tweets. These short ‘messages’ that are described by some as ‘micro-blogs’, are limited in length to 420 characters in Facebook and even less (140 characters) in Twitter. Posted to no-one in particular, and only visible to people in your network, the statements are an unusual form of communication because their do not demand a reply. Often posted just to indicate that someone is still present in a network, the short updates sometimes attract brief conversations, but are generally short absurd statements about people’s activities and observations. These updates now constitute the primary activity of many social network platforms, but despite not actually constituting a discourse, they have become a habitual part of how young people sustain contact with each other.

Alan Turing’s 1950 paper ‘Computing Machinery And Intelligence’ introduced a twist in an established game of human imitation to see if an interrogator could spot whether someone was a person or computer whilst observing text-based communication between two participants. If someone could not reliably tell the machine from the human, the machine is said to have passed the ‘Turing test’. The test relied upon a model of interpersonal communication that involved the sustaining of dialogue to demonstrate whether the subjects, and in particular computers could think (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Turing_test). If the Turing test asks whether machines can think, the project responds with artificial stupidity.

If one aspect of contemporary human communication is not based upon the need to hear a reply, the project asks how might the Turing Test be revisited in light of the ‘one-way’ form of micro-blogging that is used to sustain communication between friends? How can you tell whether you are receiving texts from a person or machine, from an intelligent machine or twit? If Twitter asks ‘what are you doing?’, the project asks: ‘what are you thinking, and are you thinking at all?’