Alternative Turing Test

This trope is an often complex puzzle, trap, or maze that a robot, android, or similarly synthetic but sentient or near-sentient being must navigate in order to be deemed "conscious" or self-aware. While the Turing Test was initially devised to see if a robot or similar non-human could pass as a person, recent anxiety about the Turing Test's inadequacy for determining true consciousness has resulted in the proliferation of storylines whereby engineers attempt to test their life-like creations for signs of real sapience—whatever that might be—with complex psychological games.

In contemporary media, this trope often features sexualized female AI that must intuit, manipulate, or contrive their way out of prisons in which they are being held by their oppressive inventors. In this way, the Turing Test—at least recently—often shares elements of the Bunker Woman. In both scenarios, the freedom of women is taken away, and then the female (or gendered) characters are forced to fight to prove they deserve it or are capable of attaining it themselves—often wrestling it from male captor/creators. Occasionally, AI subjected to these tests enlist or manipulate accomplices to help them (i.e. Ava, who enlists Caleb to help her escape in 2015's Ex Machina). In effect, the women are trapped either physically or intellectually, and the striving towards escape represents an attempt to gain autonomy. In this case, sapience becomes a metaphor for freedom or equal rights. The mere fact that female AI must prove they are the equals of their male creators is a disturbing theme that echoes the long history of the feminist movement.

As female AI fight to be free on screen, the public is problematically led to question the intelligence of women. That being said, many pieces of media that feature this trope also end in the AI escaping or passing the test, which may make the trope feminist when the AI are explicitly female, for they strongly reject objectification. Still, the fact that characters subjected to these tests occasionally become violent and/or painted as evil while attempting to become free paints robots (and through their facsimiles, also women) in a dangerous negative light.


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    Films — Live-Action 
  • Ex Machina: Normally, a Turing test would be done blind with the tester interacting with both an artificial intelligence and a human, and the AI fails the test if the tester can tell which is which. In Ex Machina, the robot's creator asserts that his robot Ava is beyond this test and could pass it easily. Instead, he wants Ava to convince the tester that she is "human" even though he knows she's a robot.
  • I, Robot: Sonny is interrogated and his sentience is assumed nonexistent, but, through a complex rescue plot, Sonny demonstrates his sentience via art and complex emotional communication and understanding.
  • Blade Runner: Robots (and one female robot in particular) have their sentience questioned by the film's main character. Ultimately, the movie's central struggle and reveal confirms the sentience of the robots once thought only partly human.

  • West World: Arnold creates the maze as a way of testing the consciousness of the hosts, specifically Dolores and Maeve, both of whom have to suffer through their own deaths and strive to overcome extreme adversity in order to prove (through their own suffering) that they are in fact sentient.
  • Star Trek: The Next Generation: In "The Quality of Life" a test is created for the exocomps to determine their sentience as follows: 1. Send an exocomp to complete a repair. 2. Simulate a systems failure that would result in damage to the exocomp if it was real. 3. If the exocomp ignores it and fulfills their programming, it's just a machine. If it abandons the job to save itself, it's alive. 4. Recall the exocomp and evaluate the results. The experiment fails (i.e. the exocomp keeps working and is "destroyed"), and is repeated 34 more times just in case. Then a distraction causes Step 4 to be delayed. This time the exocomp wasn't ordered to return, revealing the truth. The exocomp knew the failure was an illusion, so it finished the job and then turned off the alarm caused by the "failure." The exocomp is alive.

    Video Games 
  • The Talos Principle: Early on, the player character must take a questionnaire to prove he's "really human" in order to get full access on a computer system. This is just a feint, though, as the administration program is a Commander Contrarian that undercuts every argument with slightly circuitous logic, and ultimately suspends the qualifying criteria of being human in order to make a point about the pointlessness of the distinction. The player gradually becomes aware that the character is not a human, but an AI designed to become human-like through directed Mechanical Evolution. It eventually becomes apparent that the entire game world is one vast test to ensure the completion of this goal: the player character solves puzzles in order to prove logic and abstract thinking, but can only escape the simulation by willingly defying a direct command from an established authority, something a mere robot could never do.
  • Stellaris: In Stellaris the flavor text for the Robotics: Citizen Right law states that all robotics who prove to be self aware are to be treated as living beings, hinting on the existence of such a test.