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In the game "The Turing Test", at one point an incredibly intelligent AI utters a sentence that baffles me because of its sudden disregard for the "s" form. It says:

The distance between Jupiter and Earth make it inappropriate for the ISA to directly interface with the mission directives.

You can even hear him say that in this video.

Can someone explain what has happened here? Why does an otherwise perfectly speaking character say something that sounds this weird? Why doesn't he say "makes it inappropriate"? Or am I missing something? The game was produced by a British company, mind you.

  • Are you sure the speech is perfect? "to directly interface with the mission directives" sounds rather robotic to me. How do you interface with a directive? – Tᴚoɯɐuo Jun 26 '18 at 10:02
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It's an example of attraction (which is not regarded as grammatical in careful writing, but is actually quite common, in casual writing as well as speech).

The verb agrees with the more recent (apparent) phrase "Jupiter and Earth", rather than the logical (and formal grammatical) subject "distance".

This is a particularly interesting example, because "Jupiter and Earth" is not actually a noun phrase, or even a constituent of the sentence: it is two separate noun phrases, which form part of the prepositional phrase "between Jupiter and Earth". Logically there is nothing plural there. But it can still attract the agreement.

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It's misidentifying the subject. If the subject of the sentence is the singular "distance" (which it is), then "makes" is clearly correct.

The distance makes it inappropriate [...]

But, if the subject is plural... say two planets, Jupiter and Earth, you would use "make".

Jupiter and Earth make circuits of the sun in different amounts of time.

So, in this case, that's likely what's happening. It's worth noting that this is an error many people make. It's really important to think about and focus on the subject by removing any "extra" stuff so that you get the correct choice of verb form.

  • It's not just learners. It is a common phenomenon in English speech and casual writing. – Colin Fine Jun 25 '18 at 23:12
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Another take on this.

Why does an otherwise perfectly speaking character say something that sounds this weird?

Wouldn't the point of such a game be to have some (potential) AIs who do not speak grammatically—such that they are identified as machines rather than humans? In such a case, this candidate failed the test.

Unless, perhaps, the point is that humans can also be fallible. In which case, it might be making a deliberate mistake so as to not be too perfect (which humans aren't).

In either case, are you certain that the game designers didn't introduce the error intentionally?

  • How can you interface with a directive? – Tᴚoɯɐuo Jun 26 '18 at 10:00

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