A computer program masquerading as a 13-year-old Ukrainian boy has reached a technological and philosophical threshold by passing the so-called Turing Test: it fooled a third of its human interlocutors into believing they were conversing with a real person instead of a machine.
The test, first proposed by British computer pioneer Alan Turing in 1950, is "an experiment that focuses on whether people can tell whether they are communicating with a person or a machine. If the machine is able to fool people into thinking it's human during a series of text conversations, it's considered to have passed the test," according to PCWorld.
The program, called Eugene, was developed in Russia by Vladimir Veselov and Eugene Demchenko. While it's no HAL 9000, Eugene managed to convince a third of its human testers that a live 13-year-old boy named Eugene Goostman was behind the keyboard. The results were independently verified by the University of Reading in the U.K.
It's not the first time that programmers have claimed to pass the Turing Test, but as The Independent notes, "Though other programmes have claimed successes, those included set topics or questions in advance."
By contrast, this program fielded a wide range of queries, but since Eugene purports to be a teenager, "he can claim that he knows anything, but his age also makes it perfectly reasonable that he doesn't know everything," Veselov says. "We spent a lot of time developing a character with a believable personality."
The real key is something called the "dialog controller," CNET writes, quoting Veselov as saying the team had improved it this year "[making] the conversation far more human-like when compared to programs that just answer questions. Going forward we plan to make Eugene smarter and continue working on improving what we refer to as 'conversation logic'."
Kevin Warwick, a visiting professor at the University of Reading said when it comes to 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. "
"Some will claim that the Test has already been passed. The words Turing Test have been applied to similar competitions around the world," Warwick says. "However this event involved the most 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."
In a statement, Warwick says the protocol for testing Eugene involved:
-- Simultaneous tests as specified by Alan Turing
-- Each judge was involved in five parallel tests - so 10 conversations
-- 30 judges took part
-- In total 300 conversations
-- In each five minutes a judge was communicating with both a human and a machine
-- Each of the five machines took part in 30 tests
-- To ensure accuracy of results, Test was independently adjudicated by Professor John Barnden, University of Birmingham, formerly head of British AI Society
A version of Eugene, first created in 2001, can be found online, although the server seems to be a bit overloaded at the time of posting. Time magazine did an interview with Eugene and you can read it here.
Turing, who was instrumental in breaking the Enigma code, Germany's World War II military cipher, was convicted of homosexuality in 1952. He committed suicide two years later by swallowing cyanide.