Open the pod bay doors, Hal

October 13, 2008

One of the great fantasies of science-fiction is that of the intelligent computer or robot. The machine that can reason and is capable of having a meaningful relationship…or at least a conversation with us.

The father of modern computing was Alan Turing. Not only did he define the concept of the modern computer, explore what we mean by computational complexity he did this whilst working in secret at Bletchley Park whilst working on the difficult task of cracking the German Enigma code. He was arguably the single most important person who was intrumental in winning the Second World War. All this before he was hounded by the authorities and drived to suicide at the age of 41 because of his homosexuality.

As well as all of these achievements he also defined the standard test for considering a computer to be genuinely intelligent. Essentially if you’re having a text-based conversation on a computer screen at the other end of which is either another human typing responses or simply another computer devising responses and replying and you’re unable to identify the respondent as a computer then that computer has passed the Turing test.

The most recent competition held to see if a computer is able to pass the Turing test was held at Reading University just a few days ago. The pass rate was considered to be 30%, i.e. if 30% of people though the computer was a human being then the computer was considered to have passed the Turing test.

Well nobody quite made it. But the best performance was close – it scored 25%. When a computer finally passes it will be as big as the defeat of Gary Kasparov by Deep Blue back in 1997.

Well if you fancy having a chat with the entry that came close to winning, Elbot, then you can because it’s on the web and looking forward to getting to know you.


Enjoy. Just don’t tell him the nuclear launch codes or put him in control of any airlocks!


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  1. Where did they get those people, anyway? It took me about 2 posts to realize it was a machine, and not a really smart one, at that.

  2. Thanks for the comment. Yeah – it’s pretty easy to figure out that it’s a computer. In defence of the testers though I’ve seen the output of what some of the humans write (the control group) in previous tests and they do tend to make their responses quite bizarre and strange.

    I think the way the test is conducted is you have something like 10 terminals, and you know five are computers and five are human and you have to pick the five you think are computers.

    If the humans act strangely it can make it quite difficult – apparently!

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