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Alan Turing: Are machines thinking yet? (+video)

Google is honoring war hero and artificial intelligence pioneer Alan Turing on his 100th birthday Saturday with a Turing Machine-themed doodle. How close are we to Turing's predictions?

By / June 23, 2012

Google celebrated the 100th birthday of computer scientist Alan Turing on Saturday with an interactive Turing Machine, a hypothetical device that led directly to the electronic computer.



In 2006, Dr. Robert Epstein went online in search of love. The Harvard-educated psychologist joined an online dating service, and soon after he began exchanging emails with someone he described in Scientific American: Mind as "a slim, attractive brunette."

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Artificial intelligence robots have held a conversation with one another for the first time with surprising and surreal results.

"Ivana" said she was from Russia, which would help explain her idiosyncratic English. But there was something else that was odd about her prose. Her emails, while warm and affectionate, came across as "a bit redundant and, let's say, narrow in scope," wrote Epstein.

After four months of online correspondence, Epstein, a former editor-in-chief of Psychology Today who has written extensively on love and relationships, had become suspicious. Ivana, while responsive, tended to steer away from specifics, he noticed. She would also often ignore direct queries.

He eventually tested Ivana by sending her a couple lines of gibberish. She responded, apparently unfazed, with a story about her mother.

Epstein then realized that, after all these months, he had been romancing a piece of software.

None of this would have surprised Alan Turing. The British mathematician and computer scientist, whose 100th birthday Saturday is commemorated on Google's home page, predicted in 1950 that, about five decades hence, computers will have advanced so far that, 70 percent of the time, an average person would be unable to distinguish a computer from a human after five minutes of continually exchanging messages.

He was not far off. In September last year, a web application called Cleverbot took the Turing test alongside humans. Of the 1,334 people who conversed with Cleverbot for four minutes, some 59 percent judged it to be human. (Strangely enough, the actual human participants were thought to be human only 63 percent of the time.)

Cleverbot's creator, British programmer Rollo Carpenter, is also the two-time winner of the Loebner Prize, an annual contest begun in 1990 that awards $3,000 to the "most human" chatterbot. The bots, which face off against humans, often use trickery, such as deliberate typos, to convince their interlocutors that they are the genuine humans. The prize also promises $25,000 to the creator of the first chatterbot that can convince judges that the human is the bot, and $100,000 for the first one who can beat a test that includes visual and auditory input as well as text.

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