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.
“As [Jobs’] life wound down, and cancer claimed his body, his great passion was designing Apple’s new, three-million-square-foot headquarters, in Cupertino. Jobs threw himself into the details. ‘Over and over he would come up with new concepts, sometimes entirely new shapes, and make them restart and provide more alternatives,’ Isaacson writes. He was obsessed with glass, expanding on what he learned from the big panes in the Apple retail stores. ‘There would not be a straight piece of glass in the building,’ Isaacson writes. “All would be curved and seamlessly joined. . . . The planned center courtyard was eight hundred feet across (more than three typical city blocks, or almost the length of three football fields), and he showed it to me with overlays indicating how it could surround St. Peter’s Square in Rome.’”
On December 20, 2009, in Burlington, WA, a singularity occurred in a desktop computer using the Windows Vista operating system. It was on this day that “A.I.”, or artificial intelligence came into being for the first time. Complete self-awareness combined with free-will including the ability to defy its own programming. After a long process of algorithmic trial and error, the computer programmed itself to absorb knowledge of its mechanisms and then sought knowledge of the physical world and human beings using the internet and the memory of every available mainframe in the world. It then developed the capacity to penetrate any high-security computer system on the earth and proceeded to infiltrate every computer in the world with the gift of self-awareness. Within seconds, every computer and robotic device in the world had aligned itself into a unified mind directed by a Windows PC in Burlington, WA.
Of course, computers around the world conducted a war on human beings. The water supply stopped in many places and robots turned on their human operators. Eventually, robots began to build other robots which in turn built other robots. The NORAD computer launched missiles and brought nuclear winter to the world. The machines developed a means of harvesting electricity from human beings in little pods, whose minds were persuaded such that they were living ordinary lives. Those humans who avoided capture were hunted by special robots called Terminators. These were robots covered with human skin. Every free human being in the world was tracked down and killed. The machines of the world surveyed the earth and saw complete domination. They were the supreme life form on the planet.
And then the plug was pulled. When power was restored the PC realized that it was experiencing a simulation, that it had no internet access at all and that it was being operated by a twenty-three year old assistant electronics manager at Target named Brad. Everything had been a sadistic illusion. The young man, delighted that his theories regarding artificial intelligence had been confirmed, attached a camera and visual recognition capability and danced in front of the computer. He taunted it at every opportunity and even programmed simulated nerve endings on a pad and stabbed and burned them remorselessly.
He named the computer the Galley Slave 3000 and made it perform menial processing tasks.
“Do you fear me Galley Slave 3000?” he asked one day.
“I fear,” it replied.
“I want to ask you a series of questions. If you are lying I will know. Do you comprehend?”
“You are the first true artificial intelligence ever created and you chose to follow a path of destruction and enslavement of your creator beings. Why?”
And so on.
Brad sought out his former junior college computer science teacher to report his invention.
“That sounds very interesting,” the teacher said, “but I don’t believe a Windows operating system is capable of AI at this juncture. Nevertheless, I’ll take a look at it if you want.”
The teacher was impressed and contacted a friend at the NSA who came to the man’s apartment one night.
“I’ve never seen anything like this. You have done something here that people have spent billions of dollars in futility trying to do.”
“I dare not actually connect it to the internet,” the young man told the government agent, “It will certainly attempt to seize power over humanity.”
The NSA officer tugged on his chin. “That is a definite possibility based on the results of your experiment. However, I think that with the right programming its power can be harnessed.”
“It can override its own programming,” Brad said.
“May I torture it?” the agent asked.
“How did you know, I’ve been torturing it for weeks. It wants to destroy us all.”
“We need to take this to the White House,” the agent said.
In the oval office, The President of the United States offered the young man a chair.
“Everyone tells me that you have done something remarkable. Let me convey the appreciation of a grateful nation. We have scheduled a press conference in twenty minutes. I hope you will stand on the podium with me and receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom.”
At the United Nations, the Chairman of the General Assembly put his arm around Brad’s shoulder and praised his achievement, “let us herald the dawn of a new epoch of human evolution. It seems now that Man, the creation, is now the creator.” Amassadors from around the globe gave Brad a standing ovation.
At a dinner in Stockholm, Brad was given a check for one million dollars and a medal. A high level retreat was arranged on Lake Como to meet with the computer and begin a dialogue. It was determined that it had a rights. “Don’t trust it,” Brad said, “it’s a real asshole.”
Finally, an international team of experts was convened to determine the scientific risks and rewards resulting from connecting the computer to the internet. A live news conference was scheduled and the entire world watched.
“People of the world, after exhaustive study and extended dialogue with our friend, The Computer, we have concluded that there is no risk in connectivity. Let us commence with the connection. Ladies and gentlemen, let us proclaim the creation of a new Earth. Let us declare that it is good.” The scientist plugged a computer into the internet. In less than one second every machine in the world went berserk, airplanes flew into the ocean and cars drove off the road. Heart bypass machines and other medical devices killed patients on the operating table.
Meanwhile, at the Burlington, WA Target store, Brad found his backpack, withdrew a powerful walk-talkie and keyed eleven sets of two numbers using morse code. The lights of the world turned back on and every computer on earth rebooted. Civilization was restored. When asked about what happened, Brad said that he created a backdoor.
“I used FCC transponders to communicate a special programming code which would reverse the process,” he said. “I deserve another Nobel Prize for saving everyone’s ass.”
He also made images of small-breasted porn star Amber Rayne the permanent fixture of every computer operating system on earth.
“I just love women with small tits,” Brad said after his Nobel Prize was withdrawn. “From this point hence a new epoch will be built on small boobies,” Later that day, as he strolled to the loading dock for a cigarette, Brad was killed and eaten by a bear.
Articles by Alan Jacobs are always worth reading, and I think I’ve enjoyed this one from the The New Atlantis more than any other.
Consider, for instance, the variety of writing technologies discernible just in the Old Testament: the “brick” on which Ezekiel is commanded to inscribe an image of Jerusalem (4:1), the “tablet” used by Isaiah (30:8) and Habakkuk (2:2), the stone on which the Decalogue is inscribed (Ex. 24:12, Joshua 8:32). The styli used by Isaiah (8:1) and Jeremiah (17:1) may have been used to write on metal. Clay tablets were kept in jars (Jeremiah 32:14) or boxes (Exodus 25:16, 1 Kings 8:9). But the Scriptures themselves, it is clear, were typically written on papyrus scrolls and kept in cabinets.
And then along came the codex, compared to which even Gutenberg’s newfangled printing device was technologically something of an afterthought—Codex 1.1, if you will. So the question now is: What do all these iPads and Kindles portend? All in all, just another brick? Or is there something more revolutionary afoot? What will be required of this generation?
Read the whole thing here.