Repository logo

Irony with a Point: Alan Turing and His Intelligent Machine Utopia

Published version

Repository DOI

Change log


Gonçalves, Bernardo  ORCID logo


jats:titleAbstract</jats:title>jats:pTuring made strong statements about the future of machines in society. This article asks how they can be interpreted to advance our understanding of Turing’s philosophy. His irony has been largely caricatured or minimized by historians, philosophers, scientists, and others. Turing is often portrayed as an irresponsible scientist, or associated with childlike manners and polite humor. While these representations of Turing have been widely disseminated, another image suggested by one of his contemporaries, that of a nonconformist, utopian, and radically progressive thinker reminiscent of the English Romantic poet Percy B. Shelley, has remained largely underexplored. Following this image, I will reconstruct the argument underlying what Turing called (but denied being guilty of) his “Promethean irreverence” (1947–1951) as a utopian satire directed against chauvinists of all kinds, especially intellectuals who might sacrifice independent thought to maintain their power. These, Turing hoped, would eventually be rivaled and surpassed by intelligent machines and transformed into ordinary people, as work once considered “intellectual” would be transformed into non-intellectual, “mechanical” work. I study Turing’s irony in its historical context and follow the internal logic of his arguments to their limit. I suggest that Turing genuinely believed that the possibilities of the machines he envisioned were not utopian dreams, and yet he conceived them from a utopian frame of mind, aspiring to a different society. His ever-learning child machines, whose intelligence would grow out of their own individual experiences, would help distribute power.</jats:p>



5003 Philosophy, 50 Philosophy and Religious Studies, 5002 History and Philosophy Of Specific Fields

Journal Title

Philosophy &amp; Technology

Conference Name

Journal ISSN


Volume Title



Springer Science and Business Media LLC
Fundação de Amparo à Pesquisa do Estado de São Paulo (19/21489-4, 2022/16793-9, 2019/07665-4)