Tech Tuesday: Do You Know the Turing Test?

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Alan_Turing_Aged_16.jpgIt’s funny how much I reference movies from time to time, but they are touchstones for many people. Along with learning something when a movie is reference, you can also add the title to a list as possible something you might want to watch. This go-round on Tech Tuesday, I’ll be talking about the film, Ex Machina. This is a minimalistic, stark, and somewhat unsettling science fiction film about a tech mogul that has created the world’s first true A.I. Throughout the film, something called the Turing Test is mentioned. Now maybe you as a moviegoer does not know what the Turing Test is. Alan Turning, a name you might know from another film – The Imitation Game,  proposed that computers, one day, would think, become self-aware, and therefore be considered alive. What would be needed to ascertain if a computer had become alive, a judge would be engaged in a conversation with a machine and deduce if, based on responses and reactions, if the conversation was from part of a program or an actual. Hence the Turing Test was established. There are a number of Turing Tests which have come out over the years; and if you want to review them, they are available on the web.

The first test that came out produced the Loebner Prize for Artificial Intelligence. It was the first formal Turing Test and it began in 1999. Each year they have a winner and each winner gets about $2200-2500. If there is a winner that can actually fool all of the judges all the time the prize will escalate to a full $100,000. You can actually visit some of the winners online.  In 2004, Alice by Richard Wallace was the winner, and then in 2005 the winner was George and in 2006 the winner was Joan, both designed by Rollo Carpenter.

Now there is a second formal Turing Test, hosted on the web: The Chatterbox Challenge. It is named as such as some people call these bots which are trying to act like they’re human chatterboxes. This version of the Turing Test began in 2001 and has been running continuously since then.

Previous winners include the 2006 winner Talk-Bot by Wendell Cowart, 2007’s Bildgesmythe by Patti Roberts; but the most famous chatterbox was the one that came out around twenty years ago, Eliza.

If you are still curious about the Turing Test, and want something less science fiction like Ex Machina to explain it to you, another interesting website dealing with the Turing test is the Turing Hub. Log on to the site and you are connected with either a bot or another random person who has logged into the Turing Hub. You engage in conversation and it is up to you to decide if you are chatting to either a real person or a bot. You don’t know. After five minutes of chatter, you judge  if the conversation was with a fellow human being or a computer.

Meanwhile, somebody else judges you, to find out if you a person or a bot. Rather unsettling, if you think about it. What happens if someone refuses to believe if you are real, and what happens on the day a bot says that about you?

We are a long way from having an A.I. the likes of 2001’s HAL or Ex Machina’s AVA, but the Turing Test may come to haunt us if we are using it to prove that we are sentient.

Just a thought to keep you up at night…



shurtz.jpgA research physicist who has become an entrepreneur and educational leader, and an expert on competency-based education, critical thinking in the classroom, curriculum development, and education management, Dr. Richard Shurtz is the president and chief executive officer of Stratford University. He has published over 30 technical publications, holds 15 patents, and is host of the weekly radio show, Tech Talk. A noted expert on competency-based education, Dr. Shurtz has conducted numerous workshops and seminars for educators in Jamaica, Egypt, India, and China, and has established academic partnerships in China, India, Sri Lanka, Kurdistan, Malaysia, and Canada.