A Moral Equivalent of the Turing Test

Given recent discussions about how Silicon Valley CEOs are dealing with the Trump Administration, I’d like to propose a moral equivalent of the Turing Test. In the original Turing Test, a person sits at a desk facing two terminals. One is connected to a computer, the other to a human being, but the person conducting the test doesn’t know which is which. If she cannot reliably distinguish the two after a few minutes of conversation, the computer program is, for all practical purposes, intelligent.

Here’s the update I propose. One subject is intelligent and has a good poker face, but is completely amoral, and willing to accommodate anything provided it’s good for profits. The other is also concerned about profits, but may or may not have a conscience. Both recognize that society finds sociopaths distasteful, so both will say the same things about valuing respect and diversity. If we cannot distinguish the second CEO from the first by their actions, then Occam’s Razor (and a lot of Twentieth Century history) require us to conclude that the second CEO is just as amoral as the first.

And this is why I object to people using the term “leader” when referring to Musk, Cook, Sandberg, Zuckberberg, and everyone else who has kissed Trump’s ring. Their defenders say, “They’re smart. They’re playing a long game. They can do more good on the inside than they can shouting in protest marches.” But how do we know they actually want to do good? They might care if Muslims are discriminated against, or they might just care that a ban would make it harder for them to hire skilled workers. No matter what soothing noises they make to deflect social embarrassment, we have no reason to believe that they are acting in anything other than self-interest unless and until they can pass a moral Turing Test.

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