But the Turing Test’s application is no longer limited to questions of artificial intelligence: Social scientists too are getting in on the action and using the test in a completely new way — to compare different human subjects and their ability to pass as members of groups to which they do not belong, such as religious and ethnic minorities or particular professional classes. With the Turing Test, sociologists can compare the extent to which subjects can understand people who are different from them in some way.

In the words of sociologists, what they’re now studying is called “interactional expertise.” The easiest way to understand what interactional expertise entails is to contrast it with a more common idea, contributory expertise. Contributory experts are the typical array of professionals (physicists, chemists, lawyers, economists, musicians etc.) who develop specialized knowledge and skill through formal education and long experience.