What is it about the
Turing Test that brings out the worst in otherwise rational humans? Is it the need to reach for a long-awaited science fiction utopia in which machines do all the heavy lifting while human leisure flourishes unabashedly? Or is it the thrilling dread of a dystopia in which your daughter might elope with your boss’s Roomba? The latest bout of Turing mania broke out at the Royal Society in London, when the Turing Test 2014, organised by Reading University to mark the 60th death anniversary of Alan Turing, was won by a Russian-Ukrainian program (Putin must be loving this) named Eugene Goostman. To one-third of the judges, Goostman the machine successfully masqueraded as a Ukrainian boy aged 13 with poor English.
Though the world’s media made a big deal of it, it really isn’t very exciting. This is no reflection on Goostman or his creators, Vladimir Veselov, who was born in Russia and now lives in the US, and Eugene Demchenko, born in Ukraine and now living in Mother Russia. Goostman’s success is more a commentary on the catalytic power of geopolitics and globalisation than an affirmation of the arrival of machine intelligence. That’s largely because machine intelligence was here well before Goostman. It runs riot on the nanosecond trading networks that threaten to shoulder warm bodies out of the world’s bourses, leveraging fluctuations uncomputable by humans in real time (see Michael Lewis’s new book Flash Boys). You see it at work every day, in the suggestions thrown at you by search engines, shopping sites and news aggregators, which try to suss you out and match your interests to their ad inventories. Soon, it will drive Google’s driverless car through America’s streets.
True, these are specific, limited, goal-directed instances of intelligence, while Alan Turing had generic intelligence in mind when he formulated his test—something that understands string theory but is weird enough to have watched Barbarella 16 times, curses freely in traffic but can also steer a genteel dinner table conversation. In short, human intelligence. But since the human population is burgeoning, and since carbon-based humans want help rather than competition, goal-directed intelligence may interest the market more than silicon-based humanoid minds.
The world of computing has moved on since Alan Turing outlined his “imitation game” in a 1950 paper, which turned the leaf on the philosophy of computing. The game has become known as the Turing Test, a