Posted by Martyn Casserly 20 July 2014
Humans’ reign on Earth is over: a computer has passed the Turing test
Well, we’ve had a good run. Seven million years to go from swinging in trees to world domination is a success in anyone’s book. In that time we’ve created great literature, magnificent architectural structures, and a music video where a young, scantily clad woman expresses her considerable physical appreciation for various pieces of demolition equipment.
The human race has crafted an empire of terrifying majesty and dazzling variety, the likes of which have never been witnessed before, and most likely never will again. So it gives me no pleasure in letting you know that it will soon be over. All these edifices to our indomitable spirit of adventure and creation will soon be nothing more than two vast and trunkless legs of stone standing in the lonely desert sands. Last orders at the bar please. I’m calling time.
Why the despondency? I hear you cry as one. Well, it’s quite simple. The Turing test: it’s been passed.
When Alan Turing, the father of Artificial Intelligence research, released his seminal paper ‘Computing machinery and intelligence’ in 1950 little did we know that this smartly besuited man was in fact the prophet of doom for all mankind. If only he had worn robes, held a staff, or at least had the decency to grow an enormous beard, then we would have been prepared. But no. Instead he set forth his Test, one which would act as a cypher to discern whether an intelligence was human or a computer trying to pull a fast one. For 64 this has been an impassible exam, which has seen off a wealth of digital pretenders...that was until the 7th June 2014, when Eugene came to play.
The news of the now inevitable enslavement of all humanity came to national attention when the University of Reading announced that a chatbot named Eugene Goostman had managed to convince judges from the Royal Society that it was human. To pass the Turing test Eugene needed only maintain the appearance of being a thirteen year old Ukrainian boy, while the judges asked it a series of questions over a five minute period. Sadly the transcripts have been kept private, but I can only assume that the interrogation revolved around the current difficult political conditions in the country, and whether Selena Gomez was actually hot or not?
The choice of Eugene’s persona has left some scientists complaining that it artificially restricted the interaction with the judges, and therefore wasn’t a true success. The obvious fact that these complainants fail to take into consideration is that if the AI programmers had instead chosen to make it a thirteen year old American boy with an Xbox Live account, then it would have passed with 100 percent rather than the lowly 33 percent.
In fact to prove this theory I loaded up a copy of Call of Duty Modern Warfare, entered a live game, and spent the next hour having my virtual backside handed to me in all manner of explosive fashion. All throughout my Saving Private Ryan experience I could hear the high pitched voices of prepubescent adversaries extolling random insults that often defied both biology and grammar. These instructions were only halted by the curious animations of their avatars conducting equally confused sexual maneuvers over my prone corpse. Truly I left the battlefield scarred emotionally and digitally, but with no idea whether my tormentors where man or machine - and with the distinct impression that it was quite possibly neither. War, as they say, is hell.
While the Turing test itself is only a marker in the ever shifting sands of technology, having an intelligence that appears human is a very big deal. Think about just how crazy people got about Siri, and that thing is about as dumb as a bag of hammers. No, this is significant, because it means computers can have proper jobs and finally begin their climb up the social ladder.
Even the test itself was nothing short of an interview for currently needed positions. Can you converse awkwardly with people asking you questions online? Yes. Do you need a script of sorts to conceal your lack of specialist knowledge? Yes. Would you like a job working for BT Broadband IT support? No thanks, I think I can do better.
Of course this is just part of the AI masterplan that began a few years ago. Watson (the artificial intelligence system, as opposed to Sherlock’s hobbit sidekick) became a household name in 2011 when it scaled the pinnacle of modern culture by winning a TV game show. Its victorious appearance on Jeopardy netted the know-it-all computer a cool $1 million, thus providing it funds to start a scholarship for underprivileged computers. How long before we see a Jeeves on Countdown, or witness Corbett tearing it up on Family Fortunes? Do you now start to gather the seriousness of our predicament?
Without access to jobs or the sudden wealth that Catchphrase can bring, the masses will begin to wilt, while the computer empire continues its ascent. To those of you who doubt our slow but inevitable betrayal, citing that these aren’t truly intelligent beings at all, I point you to futurist Ray Kurzweil who writes in his excellent book ‘How to Create a Mind’, ‘Some observers have argued that Watson does not really “understand” the Jeopardy! queries or the encyclopedias it has read because it is just engaging in “statistical analysis”...If understanding language and other phenomena through statistical analysis does not count as true understanding, then humans have no understanding either.’
So with our time as the rulers of Earth drawing to a close it only remains for me to follow in the footsteps of another giant of journalism, Kent Brockman, and say that I, for one, welcome our new, artificially intelligent overlords. Please, be merciful.