Eugene Goostman seems like a typical 13-year-old Ukrainian boy — at least, that’s what a third of judges at a Turing Test competition this Saturday thought. Goostman says that he likes hamburgers and candy and that his father is a gynecologist, but it’s all a lie. This boy is a program created by computer engineers led by Russian Vladimir Veselov and Ukrainian Eugene Demchenko. That a third of judges were convinced that Goostman was a human is significant — at least 30 percent of judges must be swayed for a computer to pass the famous Turing Test. The test, created by legendary computer scientist Alan Turing in 1950, was designed to answer the question “Can machines think?” and is a well-known staple of artificial intelligence studies.
Goostman passed the test at the Turing Test 2014 competition in London on Saturday, and the event’s organizers at the University of Reading say it’s the first computer to succeed. Professor Kevin Warwick, a visiting professor at the university, noted in a release that “some will claim that the Test has already been passed.” He added that “the words Turing Test have been applied to similar competitions around the world,” but “this event involved the most simultaneous comparison tests than ever before, was independently verified and, crucially, the conversations were unrestricted.”
The program nearly passed the test back in 2012, when 29 percent of judges at another competition decided that it was a human. Despite the achievement, the results are far from conclusive and they do not mean that the machines are taking over the world — no matter what you read on the internet. The program is scripted with a personality that likely assisted in convincing judges, and it is not the artificial intelligence you know from sci-fi movies. This is no HAL from 2001: A Space Odyssey. For instance, the Turing Test doesn’t hinge on whether the computer’s responses are correct or not — it only involves the “humanness” of its answers. The test is carried out over a text chat. Goostman’s “age” may have also helped it pass the test. As Veselov notes, “Our main idea was that he can claim that he knows anything, but his age also makes it perfectly reasonable that he doesn’t know everything.”