Sciency Words: Turing Test

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Today’s post is part of a special series here on Planet Pailly called Sciency Words. Every Friday, we take a look at a new and interesting scientific term to help us all expand our scientific vocabularies together. Today’s word is:


Let’s set aside the usual Sci-Fi tropes about robots becoming self-aware, intelligent, and possibly possessing souls. Let’s also set aside our fears of robot rebellions. That’s not what the Turing test is about. The Turing test asks a simple question: can a machine or computer program fool people into believing it’s human? According to recent reports, a program named “Eugene” has finally passed this test.

Admittedly, the bar is set fairly low. To pass the Turning test, a computer only has to fool 30% of the people it talks to. Eugene managed to pull it off (barely) by pretending to be a 13-year-old boy from Ukraine while chatting online with people in England. This means that any mistakes or inconsistencies might have been perceived as the result of communicating with a child and/or non-native English speaker.

Now that one computer program has passed the Turing test, more will surely follow. The programmers behind Eugene say they’ll keep working, trying to find ways to make their creation even smarter. As a lifelong Sci-Fi nerd, I can’t help but find this ominous, but something like Commander Data or the Terminator remains a distant fantasy. In real life, we can expect programs like Eugene to improve things like our automated customer service experience. We can also expect more effective online scams.

Image courtesy of xkcd.