The computer scientist Alan Turing, a highly influential thinker who formalized ubiquitous concepts such as “algorithm” and “computation,” has become suddenly relevant in the computer science and philosophy field again when a computer recently beat his “Turing Test.” Turing stated that if a computer can fool a person into thinking it is a human being, it is “thinking.”
Alan Turing was a sort of controversial figure in his day. A British World War II codebreaker and philosopher among other professions, he was criminally prosecuted for being homosexual while the sexual orientation was still a crime in the United Kingdom. He was charged with gross indecency under a law from 1885, and chose chemical castration over prison time. In 2013 he was pardoned by the British Government for the prosecution of his homosexuality. In 1954, 16 days before he turned 42, Turing mysteriously died of cyanide poisoning. His death was listed as a suicide, but a group of people including his mother believed it was accidental.
“Eugene Goostman,” a supercomputer, beat the Turing test this weekend by fooling more than 30 percent of judges during a competition at the Royal Society of London, held on Saturday 60 years after the death of Turing. A visiting professor at the University of Reading, Kevin Warwick, stated “we are… proud to declare that… Turing’s Test was passed for the first time.” The declaration was made in light of the unrestricted conversation that was had between judges and Goostman, as “a true Turing test does not set the questions… prior to the conversations,” according to Warwick.
Judges were tasked with distinguishing computers from human participants. The list of judges included Lord Sharkey, the leader of the petition for Turing’s posthumous pardon.
Goostman was one of five supercomputers that competed in the challenge of beating the Turing test. The supercomputer was developed by a team in Saint Petersburg, Russia, and was “born” in 2001. The programme simulates a 13 year old boy, the age true to its birth. The conversation between judges and Goostman would take place in 5 minute intervals of text interaction. The Turing test states that if at least 30 percent of human interrogators are unable to distinguish the computer from a human, the test is passed. The Goostman programme won the competition with 33 percent of judges being convinced they were speaking with a human.
Other supercomputers have claimed to have beaten the Turing test, but Warwick claims this competition was the most rigorous and independently verified test, with more simultaneous comparison. Creator Vladimir Veselov, born in Russia and living in the United States, said about his computer “it’s a remarkable achievement… we hope it boosts interest in artificial intelligence and chatbots.”
Turing himself predicted that his test would be beat. However, his test was met with criticism as to the definition of thinking, intelligence, lifelike and other qualities that make something “human.” The ongoing debate over anthropomorphism is an inherent conversation in this age of ever-expanding computational capabilities. This of course will not deter Veselov, who says he will go forward in improving Goostman by making him “smarter” in his conversation logic.
By Jesse Eells-Adams