If you can’t tell if something’s real, does it matter? That was the overarching question posed in the first season of Westworld, as “Nice Guy” William asked Host Angela about her “realness.” Back then, William had yet to enter the park and begin the moral spiral that turned him into the Man in Black, but we learn in Season 2 that Angela has had to entertain questions about her realness before. Titled “Reunion,” the season’s second episode dives into the history of the park while offering a twist on a long-standing scientific question about the validity of artificial intelligence.
Alert! Spoilers for Episode 2 of Westworld are below. If you haven’t seen it, loop back to your previous narrative.
In “Reunion,” we’re reintroduced to Logan, William’s bad boy brother-in-law. The last time we saw him, he was riding naked into the sunset after William went nuts, strapped him to a horse, and then set off for the outer regions of the park. The new episode takes place before that doomed vacation. Here, Logan is addressed by his full name, Logan Delos, and is approached by two individuals representing the Argos Initiative. Viewers will recognize the blonde mega-babe as Angela, but Logan is unaware that the people asking him to “invest in this sector” aren’t human. Instead, he goes with them to receive a private demonstration of the park’s technology: the Hosts.
“One of these people is … ?” Logan trails off. Angela nods: “See if you can pick them out.” This is essentially the challenge posed by the Turing test, which is meant to assess a machine’s ability to exhibit intelligent behavior indistinguishable from that of a human. The difference here, however, is that Logan must assess the Hosts’ intelligent behavior as well as physical attributes.
Logan takes a turn around the room, examining the guests. To Westworld viewers, many of them are recognizable as the park’s Hosts, but to Logan, they appear to be a bunch of normal humans doing normal human things. One fixes a dress strap; another cleans a pair of glasses. As Logan puts it: “They’re all so painfully human.” Slowly, though, he comes to a realization that turns Angela into Logan’s first Turing test failure. Bowing down to her hotness, he stammers, “You’re too perfect to be one of us.” Logan only realizes they’re all Hosts when everyone suddenly freezes in their tracks. Dumbfounded — they really did pass the Turing test — he says, “We’re not here yet.”
The test was designed in 1950 by computer scientists and cryptanalyst Alan Turing, who called it an “imitation game.” Its most basic form involves a person, a machine, and an interrogator in separate rooms, and the interrogator only knows the other entities as X and Y. Asking both person and machine a series of questions, the interrogator only receives written replies. If the interrogator thinks the responses from the machine belong to the human, then the machine passes the test.
In 2014, a computer named Eugene became the first real-life machine to past the Turing test, but it wasn’t exactly trying to stand out as a human among robots at a party. Instead, Eugene engaged in a series of chat room-style conversations with human judges, trying to convince them he was a 13-year-old boy. This test, however, is at its root no different than the scenario posited in Westworld: It’s just a game designed to see whether a human can be tricked into thinking a computer (or a Host) is human.
The thing about the Turing test is that it’s less of an evaluation of a machine’s intelligence or human-like qualities and more of a measurement of how easily humans can be deceived. What makes the Hosts so convincingly human-like is their preprogrammed capacity for subtlety and wittiness — quirks their creators call “improvisations.” These behaviors, combined with the fact that the Westworld designers have been able to move past the Uncanny Valley and make hyperrealistic-looking bots, make it easy for the Hosts to pass the Turing test. But perhaps most important to the success of their con is that the humans visiting Westworld generally want to be deceived.