Mr. Elboto

Sometime in the 50’s, mathematician Alan Turing predicted that one day computers would converse with humans so easily, humans would not know they were speaking with a machine. The so-calling Turing Test, the ability of a computer to fool a human 30% of the time, has not yet been achieved. But Sunday, one computer came very close.

On Sunday, a version of the Turing test called the Loebner Prize was held at Reading University in the United Kingdom under the direction of Professor Kevin Warwick. The prize is named after Hugh Loebner, president and CEO of the New Jersey-based Crown Industries, who has pledged $100,000 to the first person to write a program that passes the Turing test. In addition, Loebner awards $2,000 to the entry each year that is the most human-like (i.e., fools the most judges).

Warwick said people would be surprised at how close the machines are coming to passing the conversation test. “What we found today,” Warwick said, “is that if you have 10 judges, if we take 10 interrogators, then all of the machines have fooled some of those interrogators into thinking they are human. The best machines are falling at the 20 percent mark, so they’re fooling two out of 10. What Alan Turing said all those years ago, in 1950, to pass the Turing test, they need to be hitting at the 30 percent mark. So the machines are definitely getting better.”

This year’s prize went to Elbot, a program written by German consultant Fred Roberts. The program fooled three out of 12 judges into thinking it was human.

Last night I had a couple of chats with Elbot. The responses come back almost before you hit send. It’s freaky. JMG: “Are you gay? Elbot: “I’m not gay, per se, I’m just joyous.” Try it yourself.