R. (Robot) Daneel Olivaw deliberately
hides his/its nature while investigating
a murder. Asimov also included interesting discussion on the limitations inherent in the first of his “Three Laws of Robotics,” whereby “A robot may not injure
a human being or, through inaction,
allow a human being to come to harm,”
as it assumes the robot is aware such ac-tion/inaction would itself be harmful.
Joe Saur, Yorktown, VA
Yes, science fiction offers many stories that
support the call for a Turing Red Flag law
whereby autonomous systems are required
to identify themselves. I mentioned the movie
Blade Runner, which is, of course, based
on Philip K. Dick’s 1968 novel Do Androids
Dream of Electric Sheep? Isaac Asimov’s
oeuvre also contains many examples.
We should all listen to these warnings.
Toby Walsh, Berlin, Germany
To Design Educational Languages,
First Know What You Want to Teach
We were pleased by the attention R. Benjamin Shapiro’s and Matthew Ahrens’s
Viewpoint “Beyond Blocks: Syntax and
Semantics” (May 2016) gave to the potential educational value of tools that
translate block syntax to text. However,
though they did not identify any published studies that have evaluated possible benefits from such tools, several
recent studies have indeed been done.
Moreover, smooth transitions from
blocks to text syntax have been a feature
of research enhancements to existing
languages (such as Tiled Grace by Homer and Noble) and of novel languages in
successful products (such as the educational coding game Code Kingdoms).
Researchers typically publish evaluations of their systems; we ourselves have
evaluated the educational outcomes of
But what specific skills and concepts
are computer science educators actually
teaching with such systems? To find out,
we must focus on evaluating those skills
and concepts, rather than on task performance or productivity measures with
little relevance to educational objectives.
We developed our own DrawBridge sys-
tem1 to support not only understand-
ing of syntax through transition from
also transitions from direct manipula-
tion drawing to geometric notation and
from code to live Web deployment. At-
tention to educational assessment of
benefits can also help guide and evalu-
ate the design of continuing work, as
in Shapiro and Ahrens. Educators and
system designers should thus recog-
nize the importance of notational ex-
pertise—understanding the nature and
function of concrete syntax—along with
the more popular but abstract concerns
of computational thinking. An impor-
tant step toward improving the design
of educational systems is to better un-
derstand what computer science educa-
tors are actually trying to teach.
1. Stead, A.G. Using multiple representations to
develop notational expertise in programming.
Technical Report, Computer Laboratory, University
of Cambridge, Cambridge, U.K., June 2016;
Alistair Stead and Alan Blackwell,
Still Want to Know
Who Is the Human
Commenting on Moshe Y. Vardi’s Editor’s Letter “Would Turing Have Passed
the Turing Test?” (Sept. 2014), Huma
Shah’s and Kevin Warwick’s letter to the
editor “Human or Machine?” (Apr. 2015)
included part of a conversation between
a judge (J19) and candidates (E20 and
E24) of the (now famous) Turing Test experiment. Readers were asked to decide
whether E20 or E24 is the computer—
an appropriate and indeed challenging
question. Unfortunately, I could not find
a resolution in Communications or elsewhere. Would it be possible to get the
correct answer from Shah and Warwick?
I would like to include it in a quiz in a
Sven Kosub, Konstanz, Germany
In the 2014 experiment, all judges were
informed there was indeed one human
and one machine in each simultaneous
comparison test. For Judge J19, the result for
parallel interrogation of hidden entities E24
and E20 was the correct identification of the
left interlocutor, E20, as a machine, awarding
it 52/100 for conversational ability; E20 was
UltraHal from Zabaware. J19 was unable to
determine the nature of the right interlocutor,
E24, which was actually a human male,
reporting “unsure” for E24.
Huma Shah, London, U.K., and
Kevin Warwick, Reading, U.K.
Communications welcomes your opinion. To submit a
Letter to the Editor, please limit yourself to 500 words or
less, and send to email@example.com.
© 2016 ACM 0001-0782/16/09 $15.00
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