“How’s your day?” pops up a message in your Facebook messenger. You see that it’s from your now adult child’s third grade teacher whom you haven’t talked to in ten years or maybe it’s from someone you met once at a work conference at a job you are no longer working. If you’re like most people, you immediately know “That’s not a real person having a real conversation.” You do not respond. You delete it or block it and move on with your life.
I listened to a really interesting podcast about the Turing test and the rise of AI. The Turing test, also known as the Imitation Game, was invented by Alan Turing in 1950 to test a machine’s ability to convincingly mimic human intelligent behavior for at least ten minutes. The test includes three participants: an interrogator, a human respondent, and a machine program designed to generate human-like responses. All interactions occur via text-only, such as keyboard and screen. An evaluator observes the interactions. If the evaluator cannot reliably distinguish the machine from the human, the machine has passed the test.
If you do a quick Google search, you will either be told that the first time a machine passed the Turing test was 2014 (Eugene was the name of the program, but he prefers Gene), or that nobody has ever passed the test. The podcast mentioned that the first program to beat the test was actually in 1989. This early prodigy passed the test in rather unique way, by insulting the interrogator using hostile and vulgar language that made the interrogator emotional and defensive, distracting them from noticing that the insults were repetitive and escalated conflict rather than responding to questions. Sound familiar?
The 2014 success Eugene used a few tactics to pass the test. First, “Eugene” identified as a young teen for whom English was a second language. This allowed the interrogator to give a pass to quirks of language as a byproduct of unfamiliarity with the language or the repondent’s immaturity.
The podcast shared the story of a researcher who had an ongoing “relationship” with a woman in Russia who turned out to be a machine. They wrote each other long messages for months, and he was interested in meeting in person and pursuing a real relationship, when he eventually figured out that this was a computer program. He had become suspicious when she had mentioned she was going for a walk, and he looked up the weather to see that it was too cold and stormy for a walk where she said she was; he asked her about it, and she ignored his question, instead responding with more of the same, talking about her mother, asking about him. He also was frustrated that their intimacy never seemed to increase in the conversation. She never referred back to previous conversations they had. She asked him about himself and told her about herself, but always at the same level as before. He sent her an email that was just random characters typed with his signature at the bottom. Her reply was the same as all of her other replies, just her talking about her mother and her friends and asking about his life.
The point of the Turing test is not to assess the intelligence of the machine. In fact, if it’s too intelligent (e.g. solves a mathematical problem that most humans could not), it will be obvious that it’s not human. The point is to deceive humans by imitating them. Mimicking stupid behavior is probably a better deception than mimicking intelligence. In fact, even Turing suggested that including typos was an important part of beating the game.
When I was still in college, I worked in a call center and I had a supervisor who did not pass the Turing test despite being a living human being. Talking to Toby was far less sophisticated than talking to a chatbot. Rather than attempting to respond to anything you said, Toby would just repeat the last word you had said in a semi-thoughtful sounding way. It was incredibly grating. Toby never asked you a question or even gave a response that added information. I could have programmed an AI more sophisticated than Toby when I was in high school in the mid-1980s. Toby wasn’t even trying.
When a program can deceive us into believing it is human, we can see this as a machine’s success, or we can see it as a human failure. Anyone trying to beat the test is creating a program that exploits human blind spots in relationships. We mistake the following things as real human interactions:
- Being bullied, insulted or put on the defensive
- Being asked to talk about ourselves
- Hearing someone rant about a topic or go off on a tangent or only talk about themselves
- Listening to someone who is not our equal in the conversation (e.g. younger, difficulty with communication)
Real human interaction can fail if we consider the Turing test. Do our relationships at Church pass the Turing test or are they sometimes like Toby, lacking in actual substance, basically just individuals all talking to ourselves? I was recently asked for an update on my ministering, and I hadn’t done it, and honestly, I just wasn’t really committed to doing it. It feels like forced friendship to me. I’m open to making new friends, but based on actually finding the other person interesting to talk with, having something in common, and a give and take. Ministering assignments can be like that, too, but they aren’t always.
Online interactions can be real, or they can be fake or superficial. I’ve tried to discipline myself not to respond emotionally to insults or rants. Responding, OK, but not getting wrapped up in the conflict of it or feeling defensive because so often these types of discussions are bad faith engagements. There’s no dialogue. There’s just two people ranting, neither one interested or listening.
I’ve likewise began to notice I try to avoid interactions that feel one-sided, with one party basically interrogating the other person but not contributing, or vice-versa. I have a tendency to be the ranter rather than the rantee, but that’s still not something I consider a real interaction. I could ask more questions, but sometimes I don’t like feeling like I’m pulling teeth if it’s not happening naturally.
There are some Church defenders online that I’ve encountered, quite a few of them actually, who don’t really have interactions. They have a pro-church agenda, and they see themselves as “defenders of the faith.” Rather than defending the faith effectively, though, they just seek out anybody they think is critical or insufficiently faithful, and they either attack, bear testimony, or shake the dust off their feet and leave. There’s no need for humans to be involved in this type of “interaction,” even if this behavior feels very human. You could literally create a chatbot to do it. The same thing can happen in person, too; it doesn’t have to be online discussions only. It’s just one-sided ranting rather than an interaction.
- What percent of your communications with Church members pass the Turing test? Is that higher or lower than your interactions on the whole?
- Have you cut back on these types of superficial interactions in your life? How did you do it?
- Have you been fooled by a machine or program? How did you figure it out?
- Do you think the quality of our interactions as Church members are getting better or worse over time? Why do you think as you do?
Interesting. I do know people who don’t pass the Turing test. In fact, I know one discussion forum where few of the people(?) Interacting pass the test. They just argue, and accuse the other of not answering their questions. I never considered that 3/4 of them are bots. I should tell them they don’t pass the Turing test.
I have long decided that the kind of arguing past each other is not worth getting started. So, like if someone asks why I stopped going to church, I give them an answer that they cannot argue with or try to talk me into coming back. And on the net, I just drop out of any discussions that sound unproductive. So, yes, I avoid the robot type conversations.
And I don’t think I have ever been fooled by a machine. If I have any doubt, I ask someone else, if they don’t know, I just don’t respond. I assume real people will try again or leave a more detailed message.
I have erred on ignoring real people and so has my husband and we only find out a year or so later.
I think the interactions at church are getting more into the kind that don’t pass the Turing test, because they are just more superficial and more of the pat answer we call “Sunday school answers”. You hear the same phrases repeated, sometimes in ways that don’t quite make sense. “It is a tender mercy that we have received moisture to help us stay on the covenant path.” OK, I made that one up. I have had ministering sister visits, where the two sisters seem to have started a conversation before they get to my house, and they say hello, then continue this conversation they started without me. Or, each visit they ask me the exact same questions about where I lived before moving into the area (it is all new houses with lots coming from So Cal) and how many children I have, how many grandchildren, and then they talk about their most recent surgery. Like they don’t remember one month to the next, and no, they are not so old they are senile. Since I dropped out of activity, most of my interactions with church now are a few socials a year and my ministering sisters, and brothers, or when relatives drag me to church for a baby blessing, my most recent experience is with people who don’t know me well. So, I might be getting more fake kind of responses.
Yes, it turns out AI is getting better and better at composing posts, comments, and conversations. Maybe the Turing test is better at testing humans than bots. Put a human in the investigator seat and ask, “Can you tell the difference between a human conversation and a bot conversation?” What percentage of adult American humans can pass that test? Or put two humans in the response chairs and see which humans can’t convince an objective evaluator that they are human. At some point the bots will sound like humans and the humans will sound like bots.
On ministering: “It feels like forced friendship to me.” Well it’s forced something and almost nobody is doing it.
“Fake” is a two-way street. One of the strengths of the Church is bringing people together who otherwise would have no meaningful contact. Heretic tho I am, aloofness, particularly on Sunday, makes me afterwards rather empty, no matter the culprit was me or another.
I genuinely enjoy a ministering assignment. When I am on assignment I can get to know people that I otherwise would not have met or learned about naturally. It gives me an in I don’t have otherwise.
Until I have taken the time and effort to get to know a new person, of course it won’t be interesting. In my experience interest and intimacy comes after a person has built trust with the other person. That takes time, and effort to establish.
Of course it helps if you have something in common with that person. But for me at least that isn’t what the interaction is about. I am very interested in listening while a person opens up and tells me about the difficulties of their life. If these are experiences I have never had it can make the interaction even more interesting for me.
This isn’t a defense of the church, perse, though I enjoy ministering assignments. I would enjoy any system where I could be assigned to get to know people on a long term basis. It can be an opportunity to understand others better and to build real friendship.
I think your relationships, at church and elsewhere, will be as real and deep as you choose to make them. I also have friends I have made through support groups on social media. Some of those relationships have unexpectedly bloomed as well.
It really isn’t about where or how you meet a person. It’s the continued contact and the listening and caring you bring to the relationship that makes the difference. For me, these real connections are what life is about. I’m my experience they don’t necessarily just happen, a person has to work for them.
Many of us have noticed that once we stopped attending Church,our relationship with many ward members kind of disappeared. Granted, you’re not seeing each other automatically every 7 days like you were before. So more effort would be required to maintain things. But even beyond that my wife and I have noticed that some of our previous “friends” have simply disappeared from our lives since we quit.
This made me wonder if the same would happen if I were to leave other groups or associations I’m a part of. If I quit going to my university (not BYU) alum association gatherings, would I lose those friends? What about other examples? I suspect that many of our friendships are based on a common cause and once you ditch the cause you’ve ditched the members.
But here’s where it gets strange: if you’re a typical TBM you believe that your membership in the Church is the most important part of your life along with your family. And you would think that if it’s so important, the folks (especially your friends) that you’ve left behind would be curious as to why you left. But what I’ve discovered is that there is a remarkable lack of curiosity about that.
I’m in my 50s, a life-long TBM, served in every kind of calling including leadership and you’re not at all curious as to why I left after 50 years? I guess we weren’t friends after all OR…are you just afraid of me now?
One giveaway for someone at church who is likely going to fail the Turing test in their interaction with me is if they address me as “Sister/Brother Climber” rather than just using my first name (because they probably don’t know my first name). This doesn’t apply to the bishop or anyone in a position over me in ward leadership–ward leaders often use “Sister” or “Brother” to be polite or more formal when they want to talk about official ward business. I’ve been in my ward for over 20 years, and there are a number of people in my ward know that I am at church almost every Sunday. They recognize my face, yet they don’t really know me at all, and they haven’t yet learned my first name. When I walk by someone at church I’ll sometimes be asked something like, “Brother/Sister Climber, how are you doing?” A lot of times I feel like this is coming from a good place–they are just being friendly and asking about me, but they really don’t know me at all, and the questions almost always come from a short list of questions you ask to make small talk with people you don’t know well: What are your kids up to? Do you have any summer plans? Is there anything new in your life? It would be easy to create a bot to just ask these questions. If I encounter this same person again a few months later, chances are that the interaction is going to go exactly the same way with the exact same questions that we went through the last time around. In any case, these sorts of interactions at church that always start and end with “Brother/Sister Climber” and just ask the same kinds of questions every time make me feel like I’m dealing with a bot (even though it’s obviously a real person). Generally speaking, the other person had good intentions and was trying to be friendly and welcoming–and maybe engaging with me in this way was better than not engaging at all–but they failed the Turing test for me nonetheless.
On the other hand, if someone approaches me at church and refers to me by my first name instead of “Sister/Brother Climber”, then chances are that this conversation is going to pass the Turing test. This person most likely knows me at a deeper level, so the conversation is going to be much more authentic and meaningful.
I know that I am at fault here just as much–or perhaps more–than the other members of my ward. I’m not super outgoing, so it takes time and opportunity for me to get to know people beyond just a superficial level. I could make efforts to be more outgoing. That said, when I was growing up, I had much deeper relationships with ward members. Everyone in the ward knew me and my family at more than just a superficial level. I think a lot of this has to do with the fact that ward members did a lot more activities together back then, so we kind of got to know each other that way. Today, most of those activities have been eliminated, so ward members often just seem like strangers even though we’ve seen each others faces week in and week out for years. The Church could bring those activities back, but I’m not sure I want that, either. Back then, people spent a lot of time doing hours of busywork to just make these activities happen. Many people resented all of this time spent on busywork since it wasn’t directly focused on Christ and spirituality and took away time from their families. I’m not sure what the solution is.
It’s really gotten to the point that my brain immediately has a mild negative reflex reaction when anyone besides ward leaders address me as “Brother/Sister”. I know this person is probably trying to be nice, but we’ve both been in the ward for years. This person still doesn’t know my first name, so this conversation is just likely going to be so superficial that I’d probably rather not even do it. I know that being called “Brother/Sister” should make me feel good–we are all supposed to be brothers and sisters in Christ who care for each other. However, I typically feel like “Brother/Sister” at church is a replacement for “Mr/Mrs” in normal society–I am only referred to by Mr/Mrs in professional settings or when people don’t know me well enough to call me by my first name (kids don’t even seem to refer to the older generation by Mr/Mrs much anymore, either). These days, I don’t usually feel like someone’s brother or sister in Christ just because they use the “Brother/Sister” title when referring to me–in fact it’s kind of the opposite. Does anyone else have a slight negative internal reaction when a fellow ward member outside of ward leadership addresses you as “Brother/Sister” instead of using your first name? Is it a hint to you that the ensuing conversation is likely to fail the Turing test?
Church members are excellent at small talk like this.
We don’t attend much these days, and every Sunday afternoon we get a few obligatory “we missed you today” messages from people we were never close to in the first place. The frustrating thing is one time someone texted me to tell me their son misses my deacon-aged son. So we invited their son to my son’s birthday party. They accepted, then cancelled the day of the party because they were going to Club 33 at Disneyland instead. Double ouch. So your son misses my son, but not enough to accept an invitation to hang out. Got it. This was last weekend.
Another thing that’s funny to me about some of these “we missed you texts” is that on the Sundays we are there, they don’t talk to us.
I used to try and be friendly and say “oh I missed you too; we had family in town today” or “thank you for thinking of us; we have some illness we don’t want to spread around the community” etc. What I want to say is if you miss me invite me to your home for dinner or game night, but instead I just say thanks for the text and move on with my life.
But no one has ever said “we noticed your engagement with the church has changed; I would be interested in learning more.”
In other words, I used to try to make my message seem human, but have been reduced to responding to bot-talk with more bot-talk.
Contrast this to people I work with, have met through PTA and kids sports, and the gym. We talk about real things and know way more about each other than people I’ve been going to church with for over a decade. As one neighbor told us “You can’t be real friends with the Mormons.”
Missionaries are also really bad at this. They come visit, invite us to do something we don’t want to do, we find a way to accept it on our terms, they ask if they can follow up with us in the near future about our experience with their challenge, we say ok, six weeks later they come over again, never bring up the challenge, and ask us the same get to know you questions all over again. I really hope I wasn’t that oblivious as a missionary.
These are such interesting questions, Hawkgrrrl. I was thinking of different contexts at church that might be most likely to fail the Turing test. Temple recommend interviews are a great example. At least in my experience, it’s all “yes, yes, yes, no, no . . .,” you know, like the world’s most boring (and easy) cheat code. The interview givers sometimes try to put deep expression into their voice to make it meaningful, but it doesn’t really work. For them either. They’ve given the same interview a million times. If we didn’t believe so much in the spirit of discernment, we could just move the whole thing to an online checklist you fill out.
One thing I do fairly often that I think passes the Turing test is to engage people about talks they’ve given if they’re at all of interest to me. I haven’t of course thought of it in these terms. But I like when people tell stories about their lives or explain new or different takes on principles that I hadn’t heard of before. So I do my best to chase people down afterward so I can tell them I liked their talk and find out more about what they said and tell them why I connected to it.
But yeah, overall, lots of my church interactions feel like they could definitely be replaced by bots.
Ardent church defenders/apologists do use their own formulaic response strategies. The first step typically involves personally attacking critics followed by overwrought diatribes that never directly address the issues.
I once tried to engage Dan Peterson in a discussion of BoM inconsistencies. Of course he responded by questioning my testimony and offering obscure comments that never directly addressed my points. All very condescending. I am convinced that Dan and his ilk are just poorly designed machines desperately in need of upgrades.
I’ll admit, as a Utahn who loves Utah and is currently living in Utah County, interactions among members in this state could probably be better. I’m willing to minister and be ministered to, but when I need help with something, I generally go with family. My sister and her family live fifteen minutes away, same with a brother-in-law. I have two cousins five minutes away on either side, and although we don’t talk often, none of us would hesitate in asking the other for help. Ward members sort of take on a secondary aspect.
The only time I’ve gone to Church more than two weeks outside of Utah was during an internship in a small town in Washington State. I learned quickly that there, the ward WAS your family. It even caught me off guard a bit. My internship actually went through Thanksgiving and Christmas, and multiple members invited us over. We were going to forego a Christmas tree, but three different families brought one over within hours of each other. It was quite amazing, actually.
Because of this, our family has tried to be much more aware of families who have no family or other Utah connections. We try to be their family. It does make things less superficial.
At Church, in the hallways, when I ask how someone is doing, I really do mean it. If we’re walking opposite directions, I’ll maintain eye contact with them until they answer me and I’ll slow down. I don’t want to inconvenience anyone, but my face and body essentially say “I genuinely want to know how you’re doing and I’m willing to talk about it, but if you’d rather not, I’ll let you be on your way.”
I try to get to know my ministering families, but most don’t have much of a desire to get to know me, mainly because they don’t need me, which is fine I guess.
Josh H wrote “ I guess we weren’t friends after all OR…are you just afraid of me now?”
I’ve written somewhat similar sentiments before, but I’d say it’s probably more the latter, but even that’s a little inaccurate. I look at people who I’ve been relatively close with on varying levels and who have formally or informally left the Church. If they didn’t want to talk to me during the process of leaving, I doubt they have any reason to talk to me about it now, even though I wouldn’t mind and may actually be mistaken. I also have to ask myself if these people still have any desire to interact with me when I still hold to beliefs and a lifestyle that they largely disregard or despise. My attitude may be irrational, and one could also question my priorities regarding another’s personal salvation vs a desire to give them their space, but it’s a balancing act that I’m constantly trying to figure out internally. Yes, I want to discuss what I consider truth and salvation, but I also want to be the friend you need the way you want me to be. You’re just now in a position that makes it a little more awkward for me to figure it out.
None of the General Conference talk would pass the Turing test. It would be very easy with today’s technology to build an AI to write all the General Conference addresses. First you load all the talks to date. Then as input you add a smattering of current events (but not too many, as you don’t what people to think the church is guided by the outside world). The other inputs would be “new temples”. Then just push a button and out would pop the results. The AI would add the odd Airplane reference for Uchtdorf, some religious liberty talk for Oaks, and some story about his mother for Eyring.
Bishop Bill: Well, since they aren’t interactive, GC talks wouldn’t really qualify for the Turing test, but I did have the thought (and you have to know someone’s going to actually do this) that you could totally create a “church” that is run by AI. It would not even be that hard, especially if it’s a strictly online church. There was a really interesting podcast (different one) that talked about how the idea that creative content would be immune to being taken over by computers has turned out to be completely wrong. You could replace most journalism with programs at this point. A painter or writer, filmmaker or composer can tell a program to create a painting, musical score, movie or story based on inputs to mimic certain styles and it literally creates them, and the products of these programs are getting better and better exponentially. Even podcasts, which are often a creative product that involves a lot of research and aggregation from other sources, can be created by programs. The iceberg is about to tip.
But back to the Church idea, an AI-created church wouldn’t necessarily be less effective than a “real” church except if it fails to bulid a community. In terms of content, it would probably be better than human-creation (although AI is a human creation) because you would program it with a specific goal and vibe. Maybe you’d say create content that will motivate people to be more like Jesus’ teachings. Then you determine metrics of engagement and program it to do more of what gets those results. Any way you slice it, that’s probably more effective than the current hemmorhaging of members across all denominations.
One of the hats I wear at work is that of an ethics attorney for the Air Force. One of the big rules is that we can’t accept gifts because of our official position. One exception to the “Gifts Rule” is gifts given because of a personal relationship. By definition, in order for there to be a personal relationship, you have to do things together outside of the workplace.
It doesn’t seem to be much of a stretch to me to say the same thing about relationships in the Church. You can’t really say you have a personal relationship with a fellow church-goer if you never do anything with them outside of a church-related activity.
With this definition, I am hard-pressed to think of many members with whom I have a real relationship.
I agree that having fake/bot greetings/relationships isn’t fulfilling, yet having gone to many a sacrament meeting and not having one person speak one word to me, I find that I would have preferred the shallow/bot “hello” to the lonely isolation. The thing is – if you’re in the inner circle you ideally have some genuine relationships with others and don’t recognize that everyone isn’t having your experience. When you’re not in the inner circle, the members are totally stumped as to what to do with you, as well as what Josh said – a little afraid of you.
As Mountainclimber mentioned, in years past there were more activities that provided socialization opportunities but the price was yet more personal time from those tasked with planning and running the events. I don’t know what the solution is, other than to encourage genuine interaction among the members (but see my first paragraph – they would have to recognize that there is an issue to start with).
I actually always liked visiting teaching/ministering if it was done correctly – getting to know someone, caring about them, developing a relationship with them, and being of service to them as appropriate – becoming a friend. In my mind it was an opportunity to learn to love thy neighbor. Sadly, I rarely saw that happen. Too often it was just a checklist item that benefited no one, wasted a lot of time, instilled guilt and resentment, and produced nothing.
Church is superficial because of our fixations with “the rescue.” I think RMs can be depressed when they lose their hero-like status.
Should be an interesting 5th Sunday – got the following email from the ward Sunday School presidency for a google survey – “Bishop asked us to collect anonymous feedback about how the Come Follow Me program is working in your home. The goal of this fifth Sunday discussion (October 30, 2022) is to anonymously share what is working and what the challenges are with some examples we can share as a group to help us all improve in this area.”
If it’s anonymous I will respond that I have major faith and trust issues and no longer sustain the curriculum writers.
I regret that you were asked to report on your ministering assignment — you should not have been. When ministering was rolled out to replace home teaching, reporting was dropped. Unfortunately, no one pays attention to instructions, and old ways never die.
What Bishop Bill said.
Is this a white Protestant background cultural problem? Seems like the Spanish speaking and Polynesian wards don’t have this problem. Maybe it’s a Western capitalist culture problem? Am I wrong?
I don’t pass the Turing Test at church, and haven’t for several years before I quit attending. I was trying so hard to ‘fake it til you make it’ that I just churned out what I was supposed to say. I did have some situational friends — like our kids were the same age, or we lived on the same street. Not all friendships are deep and long-lasting; some are just because you’re in the same circles for a while. Those are fine too. I wasn’t in my final ward long enough to actually make a friend, which made it easier to quit attending. I don’t know anyone in my last couple of wards well enough to really be honest about why I quit. A few people did visit and hinted that if I wanted to talk about why I left, they were willing to listen. I gave vague answers because I didn’t want to talk about it. Basically, at this point, I’m just polite and surface-level until they leave. It works. I don’t want bad feelings between me and my neighbors, so I fail the Turing Test in all my interactions with IRL Church members and keep things nice and superficial.
Online is a different story entirely.
Ji, you are correct that we no longer report on our ministering. However, RS and EQ presidencies are to interview each ministering companionship quarterly.
“Ministering interviews are held at least once per quarter, and priesthood quorum and Relief Society leaders can interview ministering companionships as often as needed.
As President Russell M. Nelson has explained, the purpose of the ministering interview is to counsel together about the well-being of assigned families and individuals.”
It’s a different procedure, but people who minister are still being asked about the people they minister to.
Janey, yeah, me too. I do not pass the Turing test at church. All the people saying that fake goes two ways and the each of us has a responsibility to try to authentically engage, made me start to look at my own “do I pass the Turing test at church?” Well, no, not any more. Back when I was all in Molly Mormon, or at least trying to be, I tried so hard as an introvert to fit into a church that kind of demands people be extroverts. And then I was really new in a ward and had not cured my introversion, and got called as RS president. I had some really nasty things said about me and to me, and I erected walls. People had to actually try to be my friend, or I avoided interaction. I still made good friends for a few years, but then all RS that was not on Sunday went away. There was too little time to visit on the Sunday block and get to know people. The harder time I had getting to know people, the firmer my walls became, until now, at church or with church people, I am sure that I am about as human as an AI tank. Away from church, I do fine, but just knowing it is a church environment, I just don’t let people get close.
So, I really can’t say how much is me reacting to a fake environment and how much is me acting like a cactus. How much do we as humans create our environment by how we act and treat people and how much do we just react to the environment we find ourselves in?
Eagle lady, I have noticed the same thing. I know that in Hawaii, the Polynesian culture kind of overrides the Mormon culture as long as the ward is primarily Polynesian. But if the ward is primarily white, it is like a Utah ward, with everyone kind of superficial. The Polynesian wards kind of grab and hug visitors, but then wards that are primarily Polynesian are out in more rural areas and often has 3 generations with all kinds of cousins in the same ward, so they are very close wards. I always felt very loved even as a white stranger in those Polynesian wards. Very different from how I ever felt visiting a Utah ward.
In answer to one of the questions I find I’m no longer interested in superficial friendships. I find I’m getting old for that. I do think as we get older our circle just naturally seems to shrink. Ministering is a conundrum because it’s assigned. I have a person I minister to that I very much care about because she has so many difficult things going on in her life but if I wasn’t assigned to her I’d have difficulty being friends because her politics and world view are so different to mine and I judge some of the choices she makes. For example – her receiving strong confirmation from the spirit not to get vaccinated. As a result those in her family that felt similarly enlightened are estranged from a son who has had a terminal form of cancer all through the pandemic. I just can’t imagine!!! On the other hand I’m still good friends with a person I was assigned to visit teach over 30 years ago after spending quite a bit of time checking out schools with her for her Downs son. I admit to putting in minimum effort with our ministering assignments these days and I’m fine with limited interest from those assigned to us. I’m lucky to have family that live close by that we share really strong connections with and can call upon at any time.
Okay I hare this complaint about “fake” relationships and “assigned” friendships a lot but as an introvert, I just want to say that having friendly acquaintances and situational friends is positive not negative. Not every relationship has to be close and it’s okay (with me) to have a a friendly, polite, generally helpful but superficial relationship with a lot of people including in the ward. I would not enjoy or have the energy for a lot of closer relationships but the ministering program provides a structure that allows us to care for people who would otherwise fall through the cracks. There are MANY who need the support that “assigned friends” can provide at times. It also sometimes leads to the deeper friendships many people want, including at times with people who one might think they “have nothing in common with” and wouldn’t otherwise choose to associate with.
I know this post is about human interactions, not the Turing test as such, but in that case you gave of the man deceived for a while by a Russian bot, it seems flexibility is the key. The bot wasn’t programmed to respond to different conversational leads or circumstances. However the human in the case was obviously led astray for so long because he regarded a conversation comprising ‘ I say my stuff, you listen, and then you say your stuff, not necessarily related, and I listen ‘ as normal. I know loads of people who will talk for hours and all that’s required is mmm, wow, really? The listener in this scenario barely has to do anything to pass the Turing test.