Monday, 5 October 2015

Keeping it Real?

Strap in folks, because this blog is a wild ride featuring Alan Turing, Artificial Intelligence, web chat and $100,000 (with a slight detour via Blade Runner)!
First, let us begin in 1950 with majestic British genius Alan Turing asking the question “can machines think?” In his brilliant paper on Computing Machinery and Intelligence (which is just light bedtime reading for us here at T&S), Turing postulated that when a computer could imitate a person well enough to fool a panel of judges, we would have true artificial intelligence.

Turing developed a series of tests to do just that. Now, we could totally explain the intricacies of this test to you, because we totally understand it all, but sadly there just isn’t enough time (drat!). Briefly, the test is a closed conversation based on questions and answers.

Uber sci-fi fans like us will remember a fictionalised version of the Turing Test cropping up in this famous scene from Ridley Scott’s film-noir-cum-sci-fi Blade Runner.
Now fast-forward some sixty-odd years to the present day (we told you to strap in) and there is an annual competition held by American inventor Hugh Loebner to try and find a computer program that can fool a panel of judges into thinking that it is, indeed, a human being.

This is done, very simply via, web chat. The judges engage in a series of web chats with both humans and computer programs, to see which computer is able to best imitate the language and behaviour of a real person. The computers try to achieve this by calling upon pre-programmed stock phrases and snippets of conversation.

But here’s the rub. With all the advances in computer programming, with all the advances in Artificial Intelligence, not one computer in the entire history of the competition has ever been able to fool the judges into thinking it was a real person. Not one.

Because real, true communication is not about stock phrases and clinical sentences approved by committee (sound familiar?). These things stick out like a sore thumb amongst human conversation and human dialogue. Because real, true communication is about intimacy, creativity and imagination. That is how real people really communicate with each other.

When companies try to imitate human language and communication without using intimacy, creativity and imagination, they end up sounding like computers. Funnily enough, we’ve made a fun little video about exactly this issue. Check it out! 

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