Supercomputer convinces experts it is human

Introducing the future : A computer programmed to act as a 13-year-old boy has fooled experts.

Artificial intelligence took a great leap forward last weekend, when a computer passed the ‘Turing Test’ by impersonating a human being. But is this an exciting or a frightening idea?

The idea that machines could one day outsmart humans, as shown in films such as ‘The Terminator’ and ‘The Matrix‘, has always frightened and fascinated humans in equal measure. Last weekend that fantasy came one step closer to becoming a reality.

History was made at The Royal Society in London on Saturday, when a supercomputer managed to convince experts into thinking it was a 13-year-old boy. In doing so, it became the first machine ever to pass the famous Turing Test.

It was devised in 1950 by the computer science pioneer and codebreaker Alan Turing. He believed that if at least 30% of humans thought they were talking to a human being after a series of five-minute text conversations, that would mean the machine was 'thinking’.

On Saturday, a team of computer engineers, led by a Russian and a Ukrainian, managed to achieve exactly that. They created ‘Eugene Goostman’, a computer program developed to simulate a young boy from Odessa, in Ukraine. It convinced 33% of the judges that it was a typical 13-year-old; telling them it liked to eat hamburgers and sweets.

It is the first time a machine has passed the test when the conversation has been entirely unrestricted; judges could talk to Eugene about anything they liked. The program’s believable personality was crucial to its success — and Eugene’s supposed age meant it was reasonable for it not to know everything.

The event was poignant as it took place on the 60th anniversary of the death of Turing, who laid the foundations of modern computing. And since the 1950s, the pace of technological innovation has showed no signs of slowing. Many people have remarked that Eugene is reminiscent of a previous technological turning point — when in 1997 Deep Blue, a chess-playing computer, beat the then world chess champion Garry Kasparov.

Rise of the robots?

Some say that the success of this programme will have sinister implications for society. One expert has warned that Eugene’s uncanny ability to mimic a human is a ‘wake-up call to cybercrime’, and will only make us more susceptible to online imposters. Others go further, and fear that a dystopian future where sentient robots eventually turn against humans is inevitable.

But others argue that this achievement should be celebrated as a major milestone in the progress of artificial intelligence, and is a feat of human ingenuity. Improvements in IT and robotics will increase productivity, growth and jobs, and make our lives easier. Besides, while Eugene may appear intelligent, that does not mean that it actually is intelligent, and the majority of judges remained unconvinced. Artificial intelligence still has a long way to go.

You Decide

  1. Does this breakthrough make you feel excited, alarmed or unimpressed?
  2. Is the Turing Test a credible means of testing artificial intelligence? Or is it now outdated?

Activities

  1. In groups, list some of the advantages that advances in artificial intelligence could deliver in the future, and some potential disadvantages.
  2. Research Isaac Asimov’s three laws of robotics. Write a short paragraph summarising what they are, and explain why all robots should be made in accordance with them.

Some People Say...

“We can only see a short distance ahead, but we can see plenty there that needs to be done.’Alan Turing”

What do you think?

Q & A

I’m not interested in robots — how does this affect me?
Artificial intelligence already affects all our lives; a search engine finishing your sentence is one simple example of how we make use of it every day. Some experts think the day is fast approaching when it will be so advanced that the human era will end — which is known as ‘Singularity’ in the tech world. Artificial intelligence could improve our everyday lives, but others find the idea extremely worrying.
Like who?
A New Mexico group was founded in 2011 with the intention of injuring or killing scientists involved in this line of work, and they even detonated a bomb. It’s an extreme example, but artificial intelligence could also present a real worry for governments, who may introduce heavy regulations to curb the power of technology.

Word Watch

Terminator
The 1984 film propelled the actor Arnold Schwarzenegger to stardom and made director James Cameron a household name. Schwarzenegger plays the Terminator — a cyborg assassin sent back in time to kill a human.
Matrix
The film depicts a dystopian future where humans live in a simulated reality which has been created by sentient machines to subdue and exploit them.
The Royal Society
The Royal Society is the oldest scientific academy in continuous existence. The Society has played a part in some of the most fundamental and life-changing discoveries in scientific history.
Alan Turing
Turing’s code-breaking work at Bletchley Park helped shorten the Second World War and saved thousands of lives. But instead of being hailed a hero, he was persecuted for his homosexuality.
Kasparov
Deep Blue won due to its mathematical ability to evaluate 200 million chess positions per second. Kasparov — who became the youngest world chess champion in history in 1985 at the age of 22 — later accused Deep Blue of cheating.
Sentient
The ability to perceive or feel things, or be conscious.

PDF Download

Please click on "Print view" at the top of the page to see a print friendly version of the article.