I do a lot of interviews as part of my job. It means coming up with lists of questions I can give to every applicant. Interviewing is a skill that must be learned, and is very detailed and complex if you are to do it right. Perhaps I will post on what makes a good interview another time, however, whenever I am putting together another interview question set, the Voight-Kampff test always comes to mind. I’d love to insert these questions into an interview sometime. I’d be likely to give the job to anyone who realized what they were getting. Consider it the Nerd Bonus.
The Voight-Kampff Test, (spelled Voigt-Kampff in the source material) is a fictional test from Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep by Philip K. Dick and made famous by the film Blade Runner. It features a series of questions designed to evoke an emotional response accompanied by various involuntary physiological responses. These responses (or lack thereof) are measured by the Voight-Kampff machine.
Voigt Kampff machine
The Voigt-Kampff machine is used for the detection of involuntary physiological responses that accompany emotion, such as pupil dilation, changes in the heart rate, and the blush response. The interviewer asks the subject a series of questions, and gauges the physiological response to the questions. Humans have an emotional response to them, causing physiological changes, whereas androids do not. The test, machine and interviewer are used to detect androids posing as humans.
In the film Blade Runner, the questions posed are:
1. It’s your birthday. Someone gives you a calfskin wallet. How do you react?
2. You’ve got a little boy. He shows you his butterfly collection plus the killing jar. What do you do?
3. You’re watching television. Suddenly you realize there’s a wasp crawling on your arm.
4. You’re in a desert walking along in the sand when all of the sudden you look down, and you see a tortoise, Tony, it’s crawling toward you. You reach down, you flip the tortoise over on its back, Tony. The tortoise lays on its back, its belly baking in the hot sun, beating its legs trying to turn itself over, but it can’t, not without your help. But you’re not helping. Why is that?
5. Describe in single words, only the good things that come into your mind about your mother.
Later in the film, additional questions (actually just statements) are asked (posed):
6. In a magazine you come across a full-page photo of a nude girl.
7. You show the picture to your husband. He likes it and hangs it on the wall. The girl is lying on a bearskin rug.
8. You become pregnant by a man who runs off with your best friend, and you decide to get an abortion.
9. You’re watching an old movie. It shows a banquet in progress, the guests are enjoying raw oysters. The entree consists of boiled dog.
In 2003 The Wave Magazine asked candidates in the SF mayoral elections the five Voight-Kampff questions given at the beginning of Blade Runner and reported their responses. One of the candidates, Tom Ammiano, recognised the test as being from Blade Runner by question two. Another candidate, Angela Alioto, became agitated at the line of questioning, complaining “Let me ask you, John, how does this fit in to the bigger picture when you ask me about the dying tortoise and the dead butterflies?”
The interviewer’s reply was straight out of the movie: “They’re just questions, Angela. In answer to your query, they’re written down for me. It’s a test, designed to provoke an emotional response. Shall we continue?”
No word on whether Ms. Alioto was “outed” as an Android.
Here is a clip of the interview I always imagine:
It presumes that machines score rather low on the Turing Test.
Here’s the other Voight-Kampff test from Blade Runner:
Although frankly, if you want to test if someone is human, you could just show them this:
If they don’t cry, retire ‘em.