If you have even a passing familiarity with technology, you’ve probably at least heard of the Turing test. You’ll understand that it’s pretty exciting therefore that it’s been passed for the first time by a computer belonging to the University of Reading in the UK.
For those unfamiliar with the concept, The Turing test — named after computing pioneer Alan Turing — is a test of a machine’s ability to exhibit intelligent behaviour equivalent to, or indistinguishable from, that of a human.
As Wikipedia notes:
In the original illustrative example, a human judge engages in natural language conversations with a human and a machine designed to generate performance indistinguishable from that of a human being. All participants are separated from one another. If the judge cannot reliably tell the machine from the human, the machine is said to have passed the test.
The university meanwhile adds that if “a computer is mistaken for a human more than 30% of the time during a series of five minute keyboard conversations it passes the test”.
The 65-year-old test was passed for the first time by the university’s supercomputer Eugene Goostman during Turing Test 2014 held at the Royal Society in London on Saturday. The computer, which is designed to simulate a 13-year-old boy (we thought they just grunted at that age), managed to convince the judges that it was human 33% of the time.
The event was organised by the University’s School of Systems Engineering in partnership with RoboLaw, an EU-funded organisation examining the regulation of emerging robotic technologies.
Preempting any claims that the test had been passed before, Professor Kevin Warwick, a Visiting Professor at the University of Reading and Deputy Vice-Chancellor for Research at Coventry University, said:
The words Turing Test have been applied to similar competitions around the world. 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.
The university reportedly spent a significant amount of time making sure that Eugene, one of five supercomputers battling it for the Turing Test 2014 Prize, had a “believable personality”. It also says that it plans to keep working on advancing its AI capabilities.
On learning about the milestone, Professor Richard Dawkins suggested that we need to move the milestone on the Turing test:
Turing imagined talking to computer in separate room. What if talk to robot interacting w real world? I think that's where my bar is set now
— Richard Dawkins (@RichardDawkins) June 9, 2014