“Eugene Goostman,” a computer program meant to converse in the style of a 13-year-old Ukranian boy, has become the first machine to pass the famed Turing test.
The test–conceived by and named for Alan Turing, a British computer scientist and logician, in his 1950 essay “Computing Machinery and Intelligence”–is meant to determine whether a computer can mimic the behavior of a human well enough to fool actual humans. If you’ve ever had the often confusing and occasionally delightful experience of talking with a chatterbot, you know how far technology truly has to go before getting even somewhat close.
In order to pass the test, the program had to talk with a series of humans on pre-arranged panels, and convince (though “fool” might be a more accurate verb) at least 30% of them that it was, in fact, human. Eugene Goostman persuaded (“tricked”) 33% of the judges at an event organized by the University of Reading and held at the Royal Society in London.
Lord Sharkey, whose name and title are both real, had the quote of the day after the event, pointing out how “it was a very clever ruse to pretend to be a 13-year-old Ukranian boy, which would constrain the conversation.”
And, as the Washington Post’s Terrence McCoy is quick to observe, a 33% success rate does not mean that the program “passed with flying colors.” Indeed, the constraint Lord Sharkey (still a real name) noted suggests more cleverness on the part of the human programmers and presenters of the computer program than of the program itself.
So this isn’t quite as bad as when Watson destroyed two Jeopardy! champions and we all just sat there and watched, the warm uneasy feeling of fate at last revealing itself to us a cold steel shudder that coiled around our spines as remorselessly as night. Instead, it might be a chance to ask some practical questions of the scientists developing this software. Like, for starters: Why is it so important to be able to fool people into thinking you’re a 13-year-old boy? Because that’s not an ability we as a species don’t already have. 47-year-old men have been doing it in chat rooms for years.