Monday, 20 October 2008

Machine takes on man at mass Turing Test

Our reporter was among the judges struggling to tell the difference between human and computer-programmed conversation

by Will Pavia

Eugene Goostman is a 13-year-old boy from Odessa, Ukraine, the son of a talk-show host and a gynaecologist, who keeps a guinea pig called Bill in his bedroom and likes the science fiction novels of Sergei Lukyanenko and Kurt Vonnegut.

He is also a work of fiction, a software program written by a bio-scientist from St Petersburg and a finalist in a contest to find the world’s first thinking computer, staged yesterday at Reading University.

His task was to convince judges, in five minutes of conversation, that he was a human being who really had read Slaughterhouse Five and could plausibly shoot the breeze about it and any other topic under the sun.

I was one of those judges, and yesterday, I was fooled. I mistook Eugene for a real human being. In fact, and perhaps this is worse, he was so convincing that I assumed that the human being with whom I was simultaneously conversing was a computer.


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