Our columnist’s computer develops a mind of its own.
Writing this column was a struggle – my laptop refused to cooperate initially. I started by keying in, “The other day…” but what appeared on the screen was, “Eugene, Eugene, where have you been?” Bizarre.
And then it struck me. My faithful retainer was trying to tell me that his side had begun to win the battle.
Eugene is Eugene Goostman, a computer programme that managed to fool one-third of a group of 30 people into believing that it was a real person, a 13-year-old Ukrainian, in fact.
You can fool 33.3 per cent of the people 33.3 per cent of the time.
The experiment at Reading University involved five-minute text chats with a group of computers and real people – the trick was to find out which was which.
With their thumbs flying over mobile phones, or headphones plugged into their ears, or with the look of someone who knows they have an algebra test the next day and can’t remember whether a straight line is the shortest distance between two points or the longest, 13-year-olds can often fool you into believing they are robots.
If computers need to fool us, the easiest way to do so is to pretend they are 13-year-olds. They don’t answer questions directly, just like Eugene. Then they pick on a word you may have used and find a new use for it in their response. And quite often they ask questions that have nothing to do with the topic being discussed. This was how Eugene Goostman fooled real people, many of them doubtless parents of 13-year-olds themselves.
“What class are you in?” I can imagine one of the scientists texting Eugene, and getting in reply something like, “I think Justin Bieber is great, don’t you?”
“Aha!” says the scientist. “This one is avoiding the question. He must be a 13-year-old, perhaps from Ukraine.”
Three years ago, a computer named Watson (soon we shall have a doctoral thesis on the names of computers written, perhaps, by computers themselves) beat two world champions
If computers need to fool us, the easiest way to do so is to pretend they are 13-year-olds
in the game show Jeopardy. And now this. No wonder my laptop was refusing to cooperate, and indulging in some sarcasm with byte. Perhaps it was smiling too – I couldn’t be sure.
So how did you complete this column, I hear you ask. A fair question.
I put my laptop in its place by arguing the opposite. It is not that machines have got smarter. People have got dumber, I wrote in a manner that even pretend 13-year-olds can understand.
Computers have a Turing test of their own. Once mine worked out that this was coming from a real person, it quite simply shut up.
And so here we are…