Cat staring into a Computer Screen

We’re still a long way from artificial intelligence.

Tonight’s video is “Hackers: The Internet’s Immune System” from Keren Elazari at TEDTalks.

The beauty of hackers, says cybersecurity expert Keren Elazari, is that they force us to evolve and improve. Yes, some hackers are bad guys, but many are working to fight government corruption and advocate for our rights. By exposing vulnerabilities, they push the Internet to become stronger and healthier, wielding their power to create a better world.

Yesterday in Monday Science, BoxTurtle linked to an article about a computer program that passed the Turing test by simulating a 13-year old boy. Since then, my social media timelines have filled up with hyperbolic, sloppy science journalism calling this the “first” program to ever pass a Turing test and making commentary that’s clever but lacking in clarity. For example, in the link above the Guardian asks, “What is the Turing test? And are we all doomed now?”

Not exactly. Writing for New Scientist, Celeste Biever helps put the achievement in some perspective:

First conceived by the legendary Alan Turing in the early 1950s, the test challenges human judges to converse via a text interface with both hidden bots and humans -– and say in each case whether they are chatting to a human or machine. Turing said that a machine that fooled humans into thinking it was human 30 per cent of the time would have beaten the test.

When I met Eugene, I was acting as a judge in a Turing test at Bletchley Park in Milton Keynes, UK, where Turing helped to crack the Nazi Enigma code, that was organised to mark the centenary of Turing’s birth. … With 150 separate conversations, or tests, carried out by 30 human judges, it was billed as the “most statistically significant” Turing test tournament yet to take place. In that tournament, Eugene fooled judges 29 per cent of the time – just 1 per cent shy of the 30 per cent needed to pass. In the most recent tournament, at the Royal Society in London, which involved the same number of tests and judges, Eugene upped his score by 4 percentage points. Sounds sort-of impressive, though with just 30 judges, only a handful need to be fooled to produce the improvement.

How exactly to translate Turing’s ideas, conceived long before chatbots existed, into a meaningful test of artificial intelligence has been a matter of debate for some time. But as early as 1991, a bot called PC Therapist created by Joseph Weintraub took part in a Turing test and fooled 5 out of 10 judges into thinking it was human – a pass rate of 50 per cent. Meanwhile, much more recently, in 2011, Rollo Carpenter’s Cleverbot chatted with 30 humans in front of a live audience of over 1000 and fooled 59.3 per cent of the judges and audience into thinking it was human.

And we’re still a long way from simulating truly human intelligence — or even adult conversations:

Would you consider a teenager the pinnacle of human intelligence? Probably not. … it’s old enough to hold a conversation, but much easier to mimic, than, say, Richard Dawkins, or Stephen Hawking. By aiming low, Eugene succeeds at being a realistic human character – but is he really all that smart?

The Turing test has come to symbolise machine intelligence but it only tests machines on their ability to chat – and people are capable of so much more. So in recent years, there have been calls to come up with an upgrade that would compare computers against a much richer version of human intelligence. In the Visual Turing test, for example, computers are challenged to mimic our visuo-spatial capabilities.

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