This week's recommendation must be delivered with a caveat: Brian Christian's “The Most Human Human: What Talking With Computers Teaches Us About What It Means to Be Alive,” is billed as an account of the author's participation in a Turing Test, but it's best enjoyed if you don't expect to read much about the test itself. A Turing Test — named for Alan Turing, the 20th-century mathematician who proposed it — asks a judge to converse with two unseen entities, a computer and a human being, then attempt to determine which is which. Turing estimated that by 2000 there would exist a computer sophisticated enough to pass itself off as a person in the course of a five-minute conversation. At that point, Turing contended, “one will be able to speak of machines thinking without expecting to be contradicted.”
Christian played the piquant role of “confederate” in the 2009 Loebner Prize competition, an annual Turing Test sponsored by an eccentric entrepreneur. His job was to seem more human than the computer software entered by the primary contestants, who are programmers. The prize money goes to the author of the most human-seeming chatbot, but there's also a citation for the confederate rated “most human” by the judges. “Most Human Human” was the title that Christian, a science writer and poet, coveted for himself.