Eugene is a computer program that acts like a 13-year-old boy. It is the first program to pass the Turing Test and was mistaken for a human a third of the time
Thirteen-year-old Eugene Goostman reached an important scientific milestone on Saturday when he was able to convince a third of a panel of judges that he was in fact a real boy.
Eugene, rather, is a computer program that simulates a 13-year-old Ukrainian boy. He was developed in Saint Petersburg, Russia, by Vladimir Veselov, a Russian now living in the U.S., and Ukrainian Eugene Demchenko, who now lives in Russia. The duo made Eugene a 13-year-old because boys at that age can claim to know everything, but of course do not.
“We spent a lot of time developing a character with a believable personality,” Veselov said in a statement. “This year we improved the ‘dialog controller’ which makes the conversation far more human-like when compared to programs that just answer questions. Going forward we plan to make Eugene smarter and continue working on improving what we refer to as ‘conversation logic.’”
Passing the test
At an event organized by the University of Reading and held at the Royal Society in London on Saturday, Eugene was able to pass the Turing Test, a 65-year-old challenge to create artificial intelligence that can think and respond like a human. If a computer is mistaken for a human at least 30% of the time, it passes the test. Eugene convinced 33% of the human judges that he was a real person.
The Turing Test is named after Alan Turing, a British mathematician, computer scientist and philosopher who is widely considered the father of theoretical computer science and artificial intelligence. Turing was prosecuted for homosexuality in 1952 and died two years later from cyanide poisoning. The Queen of England posthumously pardoned Turing in December.
“In the field of Artificial Intelligence there is no more iconic and controversial milestone than the Turing Test, when a computer convinces a sufficient number of interrogators into believing that it is not a machine but rather is a human,” Professor Kevin Warwick, a visiting professor at the University of Reading and the deputy vice-chancellor of research at Coventry University, said in a statement. “It is fitting that such an important landmark has been reached at the Royal Society in London, the home of British Science and the scene of many great advances in human understanding over the centuries. This milestone will go down in history as one of the most exciting.”
Eugene was one of five supercomputers tested on Saturday. The judges included actor Robert Llewellyn, who played robot Kryten in the sci-fi comedy TV series Red Dwarf, and Lord Sharkey who led the campaign for Turing’s pardon last year.
Another advancement for robots
The implications of the milestone are vast, as robots are becoming more advanced. For example, just recently a Hong Kong venture capital firm appointed a robot to its board to help it make investment decisions, and last week the first emotionally aware robot, named Pepper, was launched.
On the impact of the latest robotics advancement, Warwick said: “Of course the Test has implications for society today. Having a computer that can trick a human into thinking that someone, or even something, is a person we trust is a wake-up call to cybercrime. The Turing Test is a vital tool for combatting that threat. It is important to understand more fully how online, real-time communication of this type can influence an individual human in such a way that they are fooled into believing something is true…when in fact it is not.”