The Turing Test has been passed for the first time after a computer that posed as a 13-year-old boy was able to convince a panel of humans they were interacting with a real person, rather than a machine.
The famous test was developed by computing pioneer and World War Two codebreaker Alan Turing as part of an experiment called "Can Machines Think?". To date no machine has passed the test by making a panel of humans believe they are talking with a fellow human – until now.
The "Eugene Goostman" supercomputer was developed by a Russian team and has the know-it-all attitude and persona of a 13-year-old boy.
This meant that 33 percent of the time the judges – including Red Dwarf star Robert Llewellyn and Lord Sharkey, who secured a pardon for Alan Turing last year – believed they were interacting with a real person as they posed questions and responded to answers. The threshold for passing the Turing Test is 30 percent.
One of the team that invented the Eugene chatbot, Vladimir Veselov, said the triumph marked a new era of machine capabilities.
"It's a remarkable achievement for us and we hope it boosts interest in artificial intelligence and chatbots. Our main idea was that he [Eugene] can claim that he knows anything, but his age also makes it perfectly reasonable that he doesn't know everything. We spent a lot of time developing a character with a believable personality,” he said.
“This year we improved the 'dialog controller' which makes the conversation far more human-like when compared to programs that just answer questions. Going forward we plan to make Eugene smarter and continue working on improving what we refer to as 'conversation logic'."
Professor Kevin Warwick, a deputy vice-chancellor for research at Coventry University, said that the success was a milestone in computing history.
"In the field of artificial intelligence there is no more iconic and controversial milestone than the Turing Test, when a computer convinces a sufficient number of interrogators into believing that it is not a machine but rather is a human,” he said.
"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."
Warwick said the implications of the machine’s abilities were profound and could impact on many areas of digital business, for both good or ill.
"Having a computer that can trick a human into thinking that someone, or even something, is a person we trust is a wake-up call to cyber crime. The Turing Test is a vital tool for combating that threat," he said.
"It is important to understand more fully how 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."
Llewellyn wrote on Twitter after the event, held at the Royal Society, that the machine was highly impressive.
Turing test was amazing. Did 10 sessions of 5 minutes, 2 screens, 1 human 1 machine. I guessed correctly 4 times. Clever little robot fellow— Robert Llewellyn (@bobbyllew) June 6, 2014
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