Conversations with Converse

A team of British researchers has won a contest to create a computer program which holds a "conversation" so naturally it is difficult to distinguish it from a human. The creators claim similar systems could eventually replace humans in some jobs, such as counselling. They could even become companions more valued than pets.

It is the first time a team from the UK has won the annual Loebner prize, which is awarded to a system which can pass the Turing Test, in which human judges communicate with computer terminals and try to decide which is giving answers from a computer program and which from a hidden human operator.

The judges were so impressed with the quality of reaction they could not tell if the winning program, called Converse, was artificial or not.

Converse was created by a team from the Natural Language Processing research group, based at the University of Sheffield, led by Professor Yorick Wilks, an expert in artificial intelligence.