We’ve all been awestruck by movies like Her (a comedy about a withdrawn writer played by Joaquin Phoenix, who falls in love with his computer’s highly advanced operating system) or “Jarvis” from Iron Man, that have helped us to expand our beliefs on what’s possible in today’s computing age. With artificial intelligence rapidly growing in speed, capability, and application, we all wonder when we’ll see the rise of the smart computer. A computer that can interact with you in the same manner as you would with your friends or family members, through just your voice, text, or gestures. Well that day has finally come.
This weekend, a computer program has officially passed the historic Turing Test, a 65-year-old experiment that seeks to find the point at which a computer can pass as a human being in text-based conversation. The program convinced 33 percent of a panel of judges at the University of Reading that it was a 13-year-old Ukrainian boy. That means the program passes Turing’s AI litmus test of fooling humans at least 30 percent of the time, on average.
The program, known as Eugene Goostman and which simulates a 13 year old boy, is the first artificial intelligence to pass the test originally developed by the 20th century mathematician Alan Turing.
Eugene, first developed in Saint Petersburg, Russia, was one of five supercomputers battling to beat the famed test. The rockstar developers include Vladimir Veselov, who was born in Russia and now lives in the United States, and Ukrainian-born Eugene Demchenko, who now lives in Russia.
“Some will claim that the Test has already been passed. The words Turing Test have been applied to similar competitions around the world. However, this event involved the more simultaneous comparison tests than ever before, was independently verified and, crucially, the conversations were unrestricted. A true Turing Test does not set the questions or topics prior to the conversations. We are therefore proud to declare that Alan Turing’s Test was passed for the first time on Saturday.”
— Kevin Warwick, Professor at the University of Reading
The progress made from this competition starts to really beg a multitude of questions such as: if a computer can really think like a human, and interact like a human, then can computers become something more entirely? Professor Warwick dives into this more below.
“In the field of Artificial Intelligence, there is no more iconic and controversial milestone than the Turing Test, when a computer convinces a sufficient number of interrogators into believing that it is not a machine but rather is a human. It is fitting that such an important landmark has been reached at the Royal Society in London, the home of British Science and the scene of many great advances in human understanding over the centuries. This milestone will go down in history as one of the most exciting.”
— Kevin Warwick, Professor at the University of Reading
Of course, the Test also has implications for society today. Having a computer that can trick a human into thinking that someone, or even something, is a person we trust is a wake-up call to cybercrime. The Turing Test is a vital tool for combatting that threat. It is important to understand more fully how online, real-time communication of this type can influence an individual human in such a way that they are fooled into believing something is true…when in fact it is not.
To successfully pass the Turing Test, a computer must be mistaken for a human more than 30 percent of the time during a series of five-minute keyboard conversations. Eugene managed to convince 33% of the human judges that it was human.
The researchers have placed the program, “Eugene Goostman,” online for anyone to play with, which you can find here. However, with all the press attention, the website its struggling to keep up, so you might have to try back later.
In the meantime, Time magazine did release an article that showcases an interview with Eugene. I must admit that the conversation is pretty funny, as Eugene can’t speak English too particularly well, but does in fact show signs of understanding sarcasm and memory. You can check out the interview here.
The Turing Test is a fascinating philosophical concept. How we judge “intelligence” has been a philosophical quandary for centuries. We judge animals to be “intelligent,” for instance — though we do not know whether they possess the same self-aware thinking and feeling that we associate with human consciousness (aka sentience).
If humans are mere biological machines — and no different from an insect or dog in terms of the ability to solve problems — then perhaps if we can interact with computers as equals, it will be enough to consider them as being “intelligent.”
So, Turing offered up a test and predicted that it would be met near the turn of the century. “I believe that at the end of the century, the use of words and general educated opinion will have altered so much that one will be able to speak of machines thinking without expecting to be contradicted,” he wrote.
There are, however, critics who are saying that Eugene, meaning the winning team itself, gamed the test a bit by constructing a program that could claim to being ignorant.
“Our main idea was that he can claim that he knows anything, but his age also makes it perfectly reasonable that he doesn’t know everything. We spent a lot of time developing a character with a believable personality.”
— Programmer from Eugene Goostman
To put it simply, imagine if I set up the same test, with 10 entries, and I tell the judges some of them are two-year-old babies playing on the keyboard. Armed with this information, some of the judges are likely to interpret even gibberish as having been typed by a human and it is not too farfetched to get more than 30% of them to agree.
This “result” can easily be taken as being bullshit and a pure publicity stunt, conveniently falling on the 60th anniversary of Turing’s death.
Nevertheless, this marks a revolutionary milestone in computing and artificial intelligence. And we can only imagine the dynamic applications a fully functional Natural Language Processing Model can have in industry and in our own daily lives.
Image credit: CC by Bernt Rostad