By Ian Sample and Alex Hern
A computer program named Eugene Goostman which imitates a Ukrainian teenager with a quirky sense of humour and a pet guinea pig has won an artificial intelligence competition at the Royal Society in London.
The program convinced 10 out of 30 judges at the nation’s most prestigious scientific institution that it was a real person in a series of online chats lasting five minutes each.
The event’s organisers, from Reading University, claimed Eugene had made history by passing the Turing test, a significant goal in the field of artificial intelligence, though other scientists begged to differ.
Regardless of the program’s success, the latest performance was an improvement on Eugene’s past attempt to win an AI competition in 2012 when it expressed its love of Eminem and hatred for Britney Spears and Star Wars, and mentioned a pet guinea pig which could squeal Beethoven’s Ode to Joy.
Proposed by Alan Turing, the wartime codebreaker and computing pioneer, the Turing test challenges computer scientists to create a program that is indistinguishable from a person in its conversational ability. The goal sidesteps more obscure questions about the nature of the mind, and focuses attention on what it produces and how it behaves.
Computer scientist Vladimir Veselov began work on Eugene in 2001, a year after leaving his home in Russia for the US.
The program analyses questions it receives, and searches a “knowledge base” for material before compiling a response. Some of the time it will ask a clarifying question, or draw on a stock response from memory.
During the tests each judge sat down at a pair of computers and typed in questions. One computer was linked to another with a person at the keyboard, while the other was running a program that provided replies.