Sunday, October 5, 2008

Turing test

The Guardian has an interesting article about six computers that are about to sit the exam of their lives - the Turing test.

In the 'Turing test' a machine seeks to fool judges into believing that it could be human. The test is performed by conducting a text-based conversation on any subject. If the computer's responses are indistinguishable from those of a human, it has passed the Turing test and can be said to be 'thinking'.

No machine has yet passed the test devised by Turing, but at 9am next Sunday, six computer programs will answer questions posed by human volunteers at the University of Reading in a bid to become the first recognised 'thinking' machine.

Professor Kevin Warwick, a cyberneticist at the university, said: 'I would say now that machines are conscious, but in a machine-like way, just as you see a bat or a rat is conscious like a bat or rat, which is different from a human. I think the reason Alan Turing set this game up was that maybe to him consciousness was not that important; it's more the appearance of it, and this test is an important aspect of appearance.'

I acknowledge that this is an interesting experiment and creating computers that can interact like a human has huge implications for technology - imagine having a conversation with your iPod about what song to listen to. That said, I think it is going a bit far to claim that if a computer passes the test it is in any way 'thinking'. I agree with Professor AC Grayling of Birkbeck College, University of London. "The test is misguided. Everyone thinks it's you pitting yourself against a computer and a human, but it's you pitting yourself against a computer and computer programmer. AI is an exciting subject, but the Turing test is pretty crude."


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