Computer tricks judges into believing it’s human

A program, Eugene Goostman, developed in Russia, is first to pass Turing Test

Eugene Goostman, a Russian computer program, was the first to pass a 60-year-old artificial-intelligence test, making 10 of 30 human judges believe that it was human, scientists said Saturday.

It’s a historic first for a computer, clearing a bar first proposed by mathematician Alan Turing in 1950.

Designed to imitate a 13-year-old Ukrainian boy, Eugene persuaded the judges at the Turing Test 2014 at London’s Royal Society on Saturday, an annual contest that started in 1990.

Alan Turing, a British mathematician and code cracker who is largely considered the father of computer science, created the test in 1950. In it, people have a five-minute question-and-answer keyboard conversation with a computer, with no questions or topics set ahead of time, and try to determine if they are interacting with a machine or a human. If the computer is mistaken for a person more than 30 percent of the time, it passes and is determined capable of thinking.

Eugene convinced 10 of the 30 judges that it was human, beating four other supercomputers on what happened to be the 60th anniversary of Turing’s death.

The Eugene program was developed in St. Petersburg, Russia, by Vladimir Veselov and Eugene Demchenko.

“It's a remarkable achievement for us, and we hope it boosts interest in artificial intelligence and chatbots,” Veselov said in a release.

Eugene managed to fool the judges, saying that he liked hamburgers and candy, and that his father was a gynecologist, according to technology news website the Verge. Eugene came close to passing the Turing Test in 2012, tricking judges into believing it was human 29 percent of the time, the Verge reported.

Veselov said they began testing Eugene in 2001, with the idea that its persona’s youth was critical to helping it seem human. “He can claim he knows anything, but his age also makes it perfectly reasonable that he doesn’t know everything,” Veselov said. “We spent a lot of time developing a character with a believable personality.” That included work on a dialogue controller, which made Eugene’s conversation sound more human and which they will continue to hone.

Among the judges of the Turing Test were British actor Robert Llewellyn and U.K. member of parliament Lord Sharkey, who sponsored a bill seeking a posthumous pardon for Turing, who was convicted in 1952 of “gross indecency” because of homosexual acts, which were illegal at the time. The queen issued a pardon for Turing on Dec. 24, 2013.

Professor Kevin Warwick from the University of Reading said in a release that the test still has importance. “Having a computer that can trick a human into thinking that someone or even something is a person we trust is a wake-up call to cybercrime,” he said. “The Turing Test is a vital tool for combating that threat. It is important to understand more fully how online, real-time communication of this type can influence an individual human in such a way that they are fooled into believing something is true ... when in fact it is not."

When asked by Al Jazeera how it felt when it fooled the judges, Eugene — available for interview here — said, “Try to guess! Actually, I don’t understand why you are interested. I know you are supposed to trick me.”

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