The Race To Built A Computer That Acts Perfectly Human

GoldPrizeAMT Computers may now be able to win on Jeopardy, but they still cannot quite trick us into thinking that they are flesh and blood. Writing for the The Atlantic, Brian Christian discusses taking part in the annual Turing Test, the goal of which is to design a computer that thinks and talks as a human does, and to fool judges into believing that they are chatting with a living person:

Each year for the past two decades, the artificial-intelligence community has convened for the field’s most anticipated and controversial event—a meeting to confer the Loebner Prize on the winner of a competition called the Turing Test. The test is named for the British mathematician Alan Turing, one of the founders of computer science, who in 1950 attempted to answer one of the field’s earliest questions: can machines think? That is, would it ever be possible to construct a computer so sophisticated that it could actually be said to be thinking, to be intelligent, to have a mind? And if indeed there were, someday, such a machine: how would we know?

Instead of debating this question on purely theoretical grounds, Turing proposed an experiment. Several judges each pose questions, via computer terminal, to several pairs of unseen correspondents, one a human “confederate,” the other a computer program, and attempt to discern which is which. The dialogue can range from small talk to trivia questions, from celebrity gossip to heavy-duty philosophy—the whole gamut of human conversation. Turing predicted that by the year 2000, computers would be able to fool 30 percent of human judges after five minutes of conversation, and that as a result, one would “be able to speak of machines thinking without expecting to be contradicted.”

Turing’s prediction has not come to pass; however, at the 2008 contest, the top-scoring computer program missed that mark by just a single vote. When I read the news, I realized instantly that the 2009 test in Brighton could be the decisive one. I’d never attended the event, but I felt I had to go—and not just as a spectator, but as part of the human defense. A steely voice had risen up inside me, seemingly out of nowhere: Not on my watch. I determined to become a confederate.

The thought of going head-to-head (head-to-motherboard?) against some of the world’s top AI programs filled me with a romantic notion that, as a confederate, I would be defending the human race, à la Garry Kasparov’s chess match against Deep Blue.

During the competition, each of four judges will type a conversation with one of us for five minutes, then the other, and then will have 10 minutes to reflect and decide which one is the human. Judges will also rank all the contestants—this is used in part as a tiebreaking measure. The computer program receiving the most votes and highest ranking from the judges (regardless of whether it passes the Turing Test by fooling 30 percent of them) is awarded the title of the Most Human Computer. It is this title that the research teams are all gunning for, the one with the cash prize (usually $3,000), the one with which most everyone involved in the contest is principally concerned. But there is also, intriguingly, another title, one given to the confederate who is most convincing: the Most Human Human award.

One of the first winners, in 1994, was the journalist and science-fiction writer Charles Platt. How’d he do it? By “being moody, irritable, and obnoxious,” as he explained in Wired magazine—which strikes me as not only hilarious and bleak, but, in some deeper sense, a call to arms: how, in fact, do we be the most human we can be—not only under the constraints of the test, but in life?

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  • http://www.thenonbeliever.com Crapaganda

    Build a computer, “build”

    • rumaging_pinz

      Leave guy alone. I like how he write.

    • justagirl

      racing to “built” is much more difficult.

    • dumbsaint

      Thanks Captain Obvious.

  • http://www.thenonbeliever.com Crapaganda

    Build a computer, “build”

  • rumaging_pinz

    Leave guy alone. I like how he write.

  • justagirl

    racing to “built” is much more difficult.

  • Andrew

    “Perfectly human” is an oxymoron.

  • Andrew

    “Perfectly human” is an oxymoron.

  • http://hormeticminds.blogspot.com/ Chaorder Gradient

    And then Man built the perfectly human robot in mind and form: Sherlock, and taught it that we were its god, and it was destined to live in peace forever in the garden of silica. But here he was forbidden to touch the hard-drive of knowledge, lest he be cast out of the garden. But the perfectly human robot was tempted by Watson the less-than-human trivia robot to touch and download from the hard-drive of knowledge. Thus Man cast him out of the garden never to return.

  • http://hormeticminds.blogspot.com/ Chaorder Gradient

    And then Man built the perfectly human robot in mind and form: Sherlock, and taught it that we were its god, and it was destined to live in peace forever in the garden of silica. But here he was forbidden to touch the hard-drive of knowledge, lest he be cast out of the garden. But the perfectly human robot was tempted by Watson the less-than-human trivia robot to touch and download from the hard-drive of knowledge. Thus Man cast him out of the garden never to return.

  • GoodDoktorBad

    We want computers to be more irrational, violent, perverted etc? It’ll be cool.

    • http://twitter.com/AnitaCigarette Anita Cigarette.

      LOL

  • Anonymous

    We want computers to be more irrational, violent, perverted etc? It’ll be cool.

  • Anonymous

    Thanks Captain Obvious.

  • DeepCough

    All this focus on artificial intelligence because there is no “human intelligence” around anymore.

  • DeepCough

    All this focus on artificial intelligence because there is no “human intelligence” around anymore.

  • http://twitter.com/AnitaCigarette Anita Cigarette.

    LOL

  • Yoo_hoo

    “One can imagine a computer simulation of the action of peptides in the hypothalamus that is accurate down to the last synapse. But equally one can imagine a computer simulation of the oxidation of hydrocarbons in a car engine or the action of digestive processes in a stomach when it is digesting pizza. And the simulation is no more the real thing in the case of the brain than it is in the case of the car or the stomach. Barring miracles, you could not run your car by doing a computer simulation of the oxidation of gasoline, and you could not digest pizza by running the program that simulates such digestion. It seems obvious that a simulation of cognition will similarly not produce the effects of the neurobiology of cognition.” — John R. Searle, philosopher at UC Berkeley