Preferential Engagement and What Can We Learn from Online Chess?

An online game of chess against a human opponent appears to be indistinguishable from a game against a machine: both happen on the screen. Yet, people prefer to play chess against other people despite the fact that machines surpass people in skill. When the philosophers of 1970’s and 1980’s argued that computers will never surpass us in chess, perhaps their intuitions were rather saying “Computers will never be favored as opponents”? In this paper we analyse through the introduced concepts of psychological affordances and psychological interplay, what are the mechanisms that make a human-human (HH) interaction more meaningful than a human-computer (HC) interaction. We claim that an HH chess game consists of two intertwined, but independent simultaneous games—only one of which is retained in the HC game. To help with the analysis we introduce the thought experiment of a Preferential Engagement Test (PET) which is inspired by, but non-equivalent to, the Standard Turing Test. We also explore how the PET can illuminate, and be illuminated by, various philosophies of mind reading: Theory Theory, Simulation Theory and Mind Minding. We propose that our analysis along with the concept of PET could illuminate in a new way the conditions and challenges a machine (or its designers) must face before it can replace humans in a given occupation.