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Update June 10, 2:44 p.m. ET: As Techdirt points out, this is not the first time an organization has claimed to pass the Turing Test. In addition, the results of a single test are not definitive. Chris Dixon, the founder of Hunch, notes: “You can’t run one test with judges you picked and claim you passed the Turing Test.” We have updated the story for clarity.

Since programmers began seriously grappling with the impending reality of intelligent computers in the 1950s, pioneering Inventor Alan Turing said that the first big milestone would come when we cannot distinguish between computers and humans in conversation.

This weekend, a computer program convinced 33 percent of a panel of judges at the University Reading that it was a 13-year-old Ukrainian boy, reports The Independent. The researchers have placed the program “Eugene Goostman” online for anyone to play with here.

The Turing Test is a fascinating philosophical concept. How we judge “intelligence” has been a philosophical quandary for centuries. We judge animals to be “intelligent,” for instance — though we do not know whether they possess the same self-aware thinking and feeling that we associate with human consciousness (aka sentience).

If humans are mere biological machines — and no different from an insect or dog in terms of the ability to solve problems — then perhaps if we can interact with computers as equals, it will be enough consider them as “intelligent.” (For a great overview, check out the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy).

So, Turing offered up a test and predicted that it would be met near the turn of the century. “I believe that at the end of the century the use of words and general educated opinion will have altered so much that one will be able to speak of machines thinking without expecting to be contradicted,” he wrote.

The winning team, however, gamed the test by constructing a program that could claim to being ignorant.

“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,” said one of the programmers. “We spent a lot of time developing a character with a believable personality.”


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