The Turing Test has been passed for the first time by a computer that was able to convince a panel of experts that they were conversing with a human being.
The supercomputer completed the test by successfully convincing the judges it was human more than 30% of the time.
Running a program called “Eugene Goostman” the computer, one of five tested at the Royal Society in central London, led the judges to believe it was a 13 year old boy thirty-three percent of the time across a number of 5 minute text-based conversations.
One of those tasked with determining the difference between man and machine was actor Robert Llewellyn – best known for his role as the robot Kryten in Red Dwarf – who was highly impressed with the computer program:
“Eugene” is the work of Russian Vladimir Veselov, who lives in the United States, and Ukrainian Eugene Demchenko, who lives in Russia.
Veselov hopes his achievement will play a significant role in the further development of computing:
“It’s a remarkable achievement for us and we hope it boosts interest in artificial intelligence and chatbots.
Eugene was ‘born’ in 2001. Our main idea was that he 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.”
Despite their success, Veselov and Demchenko have no intention on sitting on their laurels as they already have plans to make future machine-to-human conversations appear more natural:
“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 dismissed claims that the test had been passed before, saying that:
“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.”
This, he said, was significant because:
“In the field of artificial intelligence, there is no more iconic and controversial milestone than the Turing test. It is fitting that such an important landmark has been reached at the Royal Society in London, the home of British science and the scene of many great advances in human understanding over the centuries. This milestone will go down in history as one of the most exciting.”
And, talking of history, the timing of the breakthrough is significant as the event on Saturday marked the 60th anniversary of Turing’s death and featured Lord Sharkey, who fought for a posthumous pardon for Turing last year, as a judge.
So what does this mean for the future?
Turing himself said that if a a machine were to become indistinguishable from a human then it could be considered to be thinking, but that hardly means that the world of Terminator is just around the corner (but I’m sure us dumb humans will have a good go at bringing it to fruition!) What is more concerning, however, is how the development of computers and the ways in which they can interact with us could have an impact on cyber crime in the future.
“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 cybercrime.
The Turing Test is a vital tool for combating that threat. 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.”
Of course his observation is sound – a computer which appears trustworthy, genuine and, above all else, human will be able to solicit a certain level of trust from a user which in turn will cause them to let their guard down and so become more susceptible to social engineering ploys for example.
Whether the Turing test can do anything to mitigate that is debatable though – knowledge may be power, but no-one will have either if we don’t get the message out there… and how many non-IT friends do you have who take an interest in such things?
As ever, the security profession will need to spread the word to employees and the man in the street alike in order to keep them safe from both the T-800