The scientific test to gauge if a computer can “think” is surprisingly simple: Can it engage in small talk? The so-called Turing test says a computer capable of carrying on a natural conversation without giving itself away can be considered intelligent. So far, no machine has made the cut.
Eric Brown, a research scientist with IBM (IBM), is charged with changing that. The 45-year-old is the brains behindWatson, the supercomputer that pummeled human opponents on Jeopardy! in 2011. The biggest difficulty for Brown, as tutor to a machine, hasn’t been making Watson know more but making it understand subtlety, especially slang.
It seems like an even better version of the Turing Test would be based on whether the computer could make the humans LOL. I did a bit of light Googling to see if there had been a test conducted along those lines and found this article from 2008, in which one computer told the following joke:
Roberts said Elbot worked by catching some of the judges off-guard with provocative answers or impishly hinting that it was, in fact, a machine.
“Hi. How’s it going?” one judge began.
“I feel terrible today,” Elbot replied. “This morning I made a mistake and poured milk over my breakfast instead of oil, and it rusted before I could eat it.”
Roberts also said Elbot tried to dominate the conversation to keep it from wandering into areas it was not properly programmed to handle.
Sounds to me like Elbot has better social skills than I do. (zing!)
Then I hopped over to Cleverbot to see if it could recognize random allusions to high-minded fare, and incorporate them into jokey banter. Transcript:
User: Schenectady. (I always like to lead with a word that is inherently funny.)
Cleverbot: Ist das dein name? (Is Cleverbot being snarky or does it think I’m speaking German?)
Cleverbot: Hi, Kara. Then you must me a girl. Nice to meet you. I’m a girl too.
User: What? That makes no sense.
Cleverbot: But we’re married. (Admittedly, this is not a terrible response to the comment ‘That makes no sense.’ Also: is Cleverbot making a reference to current events?)
Then I tried again.
Cleverbot: Who is going to speak first?
User: I speak for the trees.
Cleverbot: Yes but out of context. (Good comeback, Cleverbot!)
User: Have you not read the Lorax?
User: Then you wouldn’t recognize my allusion, which is too bad. I hope this makes for a good blog post. We need more traffic. Then again, there’s always money in the banana stand. (The ultimate test: has Cleverbot memorized transcripts from Arrested Development?)
Cleverbot: That would be you.
User: BURN! Well played, Cleverbot.
Cleverbot: Too true, too true.