Holy Moley, Batman! Welcome to our latest edition of Great Moments in Geek History. Arriving just in time for the 60th anniversary of the death of Alan Turing, here comes “Eugene”! Eugene Goostman is a chatbot, who is capable of holding up his end of a conversation. So much so, that quite a few of the people who spoke with him thought he was a real person.
So let’s discuss what’s going on here. Alan Turing, noted genius, mathematician, and amazing human being foresaw that eventually computers would be something more than mere calculators. During his time you could get a computer to add numbers, calculate the paths of ballistic missiles, and run very regimented tiny programs (mainly from punch cards). It was a dim and dark time where computers took up entire floors of buildings, and scientists were totally unprepared for, and could never anticipate the exponential rise in computing power coupled with the exponential drop in computing size.
But Turing saw where we were going, one of a few great minds who realized that computers were bound for a lot more than just mindless calculations in cold harsh military installations(if only he knew Duke Nukem was coming). Turning knew that someday these machines would be capable of running programming so complicated they could even mimic the thought patterns of the incredibly complex human brain.
So he devised a test. The Turing Test. It is based on a machine’s abilities to answer questions engaged in a natural language conversation, and be indistinguishable from normal humans. The machine does not have to necessarily be correct when polled with questions; it simply must act in a human fashion so as to fool it’s conversational opposite. If the machine could fool 30% of its audience, it would be considered a passing grade.
So in comes “Eugene”. Eugene is a chatbot designed to be a 13 year old Ukrainian boy. He was coded in a joint effort by Ukrainian and Russian scientists (see, they can work together amicably). The test is performed on a one-on-one basis. The human judge sits at a computer console, knowing they will have a typed text conversation, but not knowing if the intelligence talking back to him is another person or a machine. After 5 minutes of back and forth conversation, the judge must then decide whether their conversation was with a human, or a coded program.
After several conversations where human judges chatted with other people, Eugene, and three other computer programs 33% of those conversing decided that Eugene was indeed a 13 year old boy from the Ukraine. None of the other computer programs got near to passing the test.
There’s a blogger named George Dvorsky who decided to punch holes through all this interesting hoopla. George’s main point revolves around Eugene not being a super-computer. But frankly Turing never specifically said the machine had to be a super-computer, in fact, he wouldn’t have really understood the true realization of the phrase. Dvorsky makes a point that Eugene cheats to win his prize, that by masquerading as a 13 year old Ukrainian boy, most of the programming mistakes could be covered by the naïveté of a 13 year old boy, AND a Ukrainian at that. But frankly, what kind of program should Ukrainian scientists develop? Maybe a Swedish one would have suited better? Is it all really smoke and mirrors? Well maybe, but isn’t everything? Aren’t we just truly complex programming? By Dvorsky’s arguments, many humans could fail the Turing test. But that’s not the fault of the test, or of Turing, it’s the fault of the person taking the test, and the person judging the test. That’s why the cut off rate is 30% and not 100%.
So is this proof of artificial intelligence? Well, not in the way we think. Eugene isn’t really learning much, he’s really just a prototype for the proof of concept. But for the first time in all of our history of creating machines like ourselves; one of them has become capable of convincing us he is real.
Welcome to the world Eugene!
If you would like to have a conversation with Eugene, click the link below, it may take a while to connect, a lot of people want to talk to this kid lately!