The Courage of Curious Uncertainty

September 28, 2021

“We can only a see a short distance ahead, but we can see there is plenty that needs to be done.”  

This sentence concluded Alan Turing’s paper “Computing Machinery and Intelligence,” published in October of 1950. In this paper, Turing tackled the topic “Can machines think?” and suggested frameworks for artificial intelligence that we now know as the “Turing Test.” With this week’s Thursday Gathering highlighting AI and Big Data in Global Healthcare Innovation, we’re reminded that despite the 70-year lapse in time since Turing wrote that sentence, our knowledge continues to evolve as does our to-do list.

I was particularly struck by the last two sentences: “Again I do not know what the right answer is, but I think both approaches should be tried. We can only see a short distance ahead, but we can see that there is plenty that needs to be done.” Too often, we gravitate to the certainty of a conclusion. Rather than highlighting a single pathway forward, of hazarding a best guess, Turing models the courage of uncertain curiosity. He opens out the solution for us all to test.

Though importantly an invitation to experimentation is not the end— instead, he concludes with the imperative that we envision possibilities together to overcome the sometimes-daunting haziness of emerging knowledge. At times, it can feel like when the next steps are unknown, they are insurmountable. But the undiscovered cannot keep us from progressing, from moving forward thoughtfully together.

I’m not advocating for specific frameworks for artificial intelligence; rather, I read Turing’s conclusion as a broader prompt: how might we continue to push the edges of what we know with the courage of curious uncertainty and the urgency of collective possibility?

As a start, we will highlight innovation in action this week, from AI and Big Data in Global Healthcare Innovation to the OnRamp: Stimulate Your Startup Pitch Competition, because now more than ever, we can see that there is plenty that needs to be done.

Jen Rajchel