Not since the IBM supercomputer “Deep Blue” beat world chess champion Garry Kasparov in 1997, have computers been regarded as being able to “think” at a human’s capacity. Very soon, six computers are about to converse with human interrogators in an experiment to prove once and for all that they can.
How can this happen you ask? In what they call a “Turing test,” a machine or group of machines can actually fool a group of judges into thinking they could be human in their responses. The test is performed by conducting a text-based conversation on any subject. If the computer’s responses are indistinguishable from those of a human, it has passed the Turing test and can be said to be “thinking”, according to an explanation by the Guardian.
Next week, six computer programs, or “artificial conversational entities” as they’re being called, will answer questions posed by human volunteers at the University of Reading in an attempt to become the first recognized ‘thinking’ machine since that of IBM’s Deep Blue over a decade ago. The interrogators will begin separate, simultaneous text-based conversations with any subjects they choose, as well as human respondents. After five minutes they will be asked to judge which is which. If they get it wrong, or are not sure, the program will have fooled them.
Professor Kevin Warwick, a cyberneticist at the university holding the testing, said: “I would say now that machines are conscious, but in a machine-like way, just as you see a bat or a rat is conscious like a bat or rat, which is different from a human. I think the reason Alan Turing set this game up was that maybe to him consciousness was not that important; it’s more the appearance of it, and this test is an important aspect of appearance.”
Whatever you take from the experiment, it’s still pretty cool. Having a computer carry on a relevant conversation is something nobody really thought was possible. On the other hand, while a computer can have a basic conversation, the computer itself has no idea what it’s really doing. What can we do with this type of technology? I think Professor AC Grayling of Birkbeck College had a decent conclusion of the circumstances; “The test is misguided. Everyone thinks it’s you pitting yourself against a computer and a human, but it’s you pitting yourself against a computer and computer programmer.”