College Needs Corner is happy to announce that the Turing test was passed by a robot built by computer scientists at the University of Texas at Austin. This recent piece of news from September 26, 2012 reads: “Artificially Intelligent Game Bots Pass the Turing Test on Turing’s Centenary”.

First of all, what is the Turing test and what is significant about it?

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In Artificial Intelligence (a branch of Computer Science) the Turing test << was introduced by Alan Turing in his 1950 paper "Computing Machinery and Intelligence," which opens with the words: "I propose to consider the question, 'Can machines think?'" Since "thinking" is difficult to define, Turing chooses to "replace the question by another, which is closely related to it and is expressed in relatively unambiguous words." Turing's new question is: "Are there imaginable digital computers which would do well in the imitation game?" This question, Turing believed, is one that can actually be answered. In the remainder of the paper, he argued against all the major objections to the proposition that "machines can think". >> (Cited from Wikipedia.)

The imitation game is a game played by robots and humans as well. A judge, who does not know the identity of the players (hence, does not know who is human and who is not human) is supposed to decide with reasonable reliability who is human and who is not. The judge asks questions through a computer program, using only the keyboard. The robots are supposed to try to imitate human behavior. (Whether the answers are correct or not is irrelevant.)

This is in essence the Turing test. Besides, this year happens to be Alan Turing Centenary, which is a nice and interesting coincidence.

Many years have passed and a lot of people tried to either refute, or prove that a machine can think. It was decided that the answer depends sufficiently (but not totally) on whether the Turing test can be passed.

This year “An artificially intelligent virtual gamer created by computer scientists at The University of Texas at Austin has won the BotPrize by convincing a panel of judges that it was more human-like than half the humans it competed against.” Risto Miikkulainen, professor of computer science in the College of Natural Sciences, created the bot, called the UT^2 game bot, with doctoral students Jacob Schrum and Igor Karpov.

Their result, I believe, shows that there are chances that machines can be built that behave like humans, hence machines can be built that can think, at least partially. What “partially” means here it is hard to describe. It is just hard for me to believe that a machine can really think like a human all the time, that a machine can replace a human without us being ever able to detect the change.

Second, how does Risto Miikkulainen describe the importance and the consequences of this piece of news?

Following are some excerpts from the article:

<< The victory comes 100 years after the birth of mathematician and computer scientist Alan Turing, whose “Turing test” stands as one of the foundational definitions of what constitutes true machine intelligence. Turing argued that we will never be able to see inside a machine’s hypothetical consciousness, so the best measure of machine sentience is whether it can fool us into believing it is human. “When this ‘Turing test for game bots’ competition was started, the goal was 50 percent humanness,” said Miikkulainen. “It took us five years to get there, but that level was finally reached last week, and it’s not a fluke.” The complex gameplay and 3-D environments of “Unreal Tournament 2004” require that bots mimic humans in a number of ways, including moving around in 3-D space, engaging in chaotic combat against multiple opponents and reasoning about the best strategy at any given point in the game. Even displays of distinctively human irrational behavior can, in some cases, be emulated. >>

Miikkulainen said that methods developed for the BotPrize competition should eventually be useful not just in developing games that are more entertaining, but also in creating virtual training environments that are more realistic, and even in building robots that interact with humans in more pleasant and effective ways. >>

Computer scientists like to play many games, and some of them are very serious and important games.

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