Computer Program "Passes" Turing Test for the First Time

Sixty years to the day of his death, a computer at the University of Reading passed Alan Turing's test Saturday, successfully convincing judges that they were communicating with a human. UPDATE 6/10: As io9 and others have pointed out, it was not a computer (or a supercomputer) but a chat bot — a program designed to mimic human conversation—that "passed" the Turing Test.

More, from io9:

  • "Eugene Goostman" is not a supercomputer, as has been widely reported. Nor is it a computer. It's a chatbot. A computer program.
  • In what can be interpreted as brilliant in its deviousness or exploitative in its disregard for the spirit of Turing's originally proposed test, Eugene's creators kind of kluged their way to victory on this one, by having it pretend to be a 13-year-old, non-native-English-speaking Ukrainian. As Eugene's creator Vladimir Veselov put it, "our main idea was that [Eugene] can claim that he knows anything, but his age also makes it perfectly reasonable that he doesn't know everything." Is it fair? Technically. But it's not the least bit impressive, in a cognitive sense. Which brings us to:
  • The chatbot is not thinking in the cognitive sense; it's a sophisticated simulator of human conversation run by scripts.

In other words, this is far from the milestone it's been made out to be. That said, it is important, because it supports the idea that we have entered an era in which it will become increasingly difficult to discern chatbots from real humans.

Original post below.

The test was first designed by Turing as a way to answer the mathematician's question, "Can machines think?"

Thirty-three percent of judges were convinced they were corresponding with "Eugene," a 13-year-old boy, during a five-minute keyboard conversation. Per Turing's Test, if more than 30 percent mistake a computer for a person, it passes the test. "Eugene" was the only computer to pass in Saturday's test. From NBC News:

"Eugene" was created in Saint Petersburg, Russia, by software development engineer Vladimir Veselov and software engineer Eugene Demchenko, according to the University of Reading. The computer was tested along with four others during Saturday night's event, but was the only one to thoroughly imitate a person.

Whether this means computers are capable of artificial intelligence remains a controversial idea, though, naturally, the scientists conducting this weekend's test find the results encouraging for the future of cybersecurity:

But Kevin Warwick, a visiting professor at the University of Reading says a computer that can think and act like a person will be an asset to battling cyber-crime. "Online, real-time communication of this type can influence an individual human in such a way that they are fooled into believing something is true ... when in fact it is not," he said.

"Eugene's" coronation as the first computer to pass the Turing Test is disputed—there have been previous claims of computers passing the test:

• Dr. Mark Humphrys published a piece, "Why my programs passes the Turing Test," at the University College Dublin in 1989 about his program "Eliza."

• A system called Cleverbot (which is also an app) reported to have passed the test in 2011.

• A bot designed for video games at the University of Texas alleged to pass the Turing Test in 2012.

The University of Reading, however, is adamant that their computer properly satisfies the parameters of Turing's test. From their official statement:

Some will claim that the Test has already been passed. The words Turing Test have been applied to similar competitions around the world. However this event involved the most simultaneous comparison tests than ever before, was independently verified and, crucially, the conversations were unrestricted. A true Turing Test does not set the questions or topics prior to the conversations. We are therefore proud to declare that Alan Turing's Test was passed for the first time on Saturday.

[Image via University of Reading]