How the Turing Test was passed…and why it matters

A computer posing as a Ukranian teenager has fooled enough people to be considered intelligent. What's next?

Share

You are sitting in front of a computer screen which is split down the middle. One half is controlled by a human, one half by a machine – neither of which you can see. You then have five minutes in which to decide which is, which simply by typing questions to both. This is the iconic and controversial Turing Test.

I have spent my life working in Artificial Intelligence – and among other dubious claims to fame, am the world’s first human cyborg. So I am not surprised that debate has been raging since my colleagues at the University of Reading claimed that the test was finally passed after decades of trying.

Alan Turing – the father of modern computing – first devised the question and answer game in a seminal 1950 paper, “Computing, Machinery & Intelligence”. He proposed that “...if, during text-based conversation, a machine is indistinguishable from a human, then it could be said to be 'thinking' and, therefore, could be attributed with intelligence."

He also suggested that by the year 2000 the “average interrogator will not have more than 70 per cent chance of making the right identification after five minutes of questioning.”

For years, judging a Turing Test was not a challenge. But now it is a different story. Machines are much better at structuring flowing conversations and mimicking humans – with random, quirky and off-beat answers.

That’s why the designers of the winning machine gave their machine the persona of Ukrainian teenager, Eugene Goostman – cocky enough for "him" to claim he knows anything but his age ensuring that he does not know much.

Some have argued that similar tests have already been passed – but ours was a true Turing Test as stipulated by the man himself. We had 30 judges and five machines taking part in 300 conversations. It was independently verified and, crucially, the questions and topics were unrestricted unlike other versions.

Some have argued that a five-minute conversation is not long enough to form an opinion on which is human. That may be true. Longer would indeed give judges more time to gain clues. But these were the parameters set by Turing himself which have remained consistent for all Turing Tests since.

And others have claimed that a computer posing as a 13-year-old boy ‘cheats’ by confusing the judge into thinking non-sequiturs, or lack of knowledge, is due to tender years rather than intellectual ability.

But the judges were not told he was a teenager and Turing never suggested that artificial intelligence would have to pose as an adult – just that it fooled people to thinking it was human. Judges were free to ask the subjects any questions they liked in unrestricted conversations – and Eugene was clearly capable of holding its own.

The fact is this landmark shows us is that programmers are now more sophisticated at producing computers that can act like people.

We should not overstate the results. Two thirds of our judges were still not fooled, which shows the machines still have some way to go before they take over the world.

But it shows artificial intelligence is showing the appearance of getting cleverer. And it has practical benefits in combating cybercrime. It only takes a tiny fraction – let alone 30% – of phishing emails to trick victims to create a multimillion pound fraud. The Test helps us understand more fully how online, real-time communication can fool humans.

Alan Turing was a pioneer, genius and visionary. He believed the test would be passed in time but even he would struggle to comprehend the size and scope of today’s internet. And as a man whose greatest achievements came in helping to defeat the Nazis would have understood, technology can be used as a force for good, as well as for evil.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Service Charge Accountant

£20,000 - £22,000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This Property Management Grou...

Head of Sales, London

£70 - 95K OTE £125K. Plus Car,Private Healthcare and Pension: Charter Selectio...

Head of Sales, Milton Keynes

£70 - 90K OTE £125K. Plus Car,Private Healthcare and Pension: Charter Selectio...

Head of Sales, Bristol

£70 - 90K OTE £125K. Plus Car,Private Healthcare and Pension: Charter Selectio...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Russian President Vladimir Putin  

How to deal with Putin without crossing moral red lines

Dominic Raab
Prostitutes face a high risk of contracting HIV, yet they are offered little help from the Government  

Want to rid the world of HIV? Then you can start by decriminalising prostitution

Pamela Das
Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

Meet the US Army's shooting star

Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform
Climate change threatens to make the antarctic fur seal extinct

Take a good look while you can

How climate change could wipe out this seal
Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier for the terminally ill?

Farewell, my lovely

Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier?
Man Booker Prize 2014 longlist: Crowdfunded novel nominated for first time

Crowdfunded novel nominated for Booker Prize

Paul Kingsnorth's 'The Wake' is in contention for the prestigious award
Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster to ensure his meals aren't poisoned

Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster

John Walsh salutes those brave souls who have, throughout history, put their knives on the line
Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

A $25m thriller starring Sam Worthington to be made in God's Own Country
Will The Minerva Project - the first 'elite' American university to be launched in a century - change the face of higher learning?

Will The Minerva Project change the face of higher learning?

The university has no lecture halls, no debating societies, no sports teams and no fraternities. Instead, the 33 students who have made the cut at Minerva, will travel the world and change the face of higher learning
The 10 best pedicure products

Feet treat: 10 best pedicure products

Bags packed and all prepped for holidays, but feet in a state? Get them flip-flop-ready with our pick of the items for a DIY treatment
Commonwealth Games 2014: Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games

Commonwealth Games 2014

Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games
Jack Pitt-Brooke: Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism

Jack Pitt-Brooke

Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism
How Terry Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

How Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

Over a hundred rugby league players have contacted clinic to deal with mental challenges of game