What is a Turing test?


What is the Turing Test?


During WW II, the Germans had a top secret code machine called Enigma, that looked like a typewriter in a wooden box,  had rotors that turned on spindles, and one or more of those rotors would turn with each key press.

Most of the German military message traffic was encrypted on the Enigma machines.  They considered  Enigma to be unbreakable. The British set up a 55 acre estate outside of London, called Bletchley Park, to prove them wrong. The intelligence produced by breaking the German code was termed “Ultra”.

The British and Americans knew virtually all the troop movements, U-boat strategies, and aircraft movements during the war. Ultra led to the defeat of Rommel in North African. Just before the D-Day landings in June, 1944, the Allies knew the location of 56 of the 58 German divisions on the Western front. The “main man” working at Bletchley Park was the mathematician,  Alan Turning.

In 1950, Turning proposed a test to see if a machine (computer)  could think and learn like a human. The test went something like this. A person engages in a natural language conversation with the machine. All participants are separated from each other. If the person cannot tell the machine from another human, the machines is said to have passed the Turing test.

Since 1950, the Turing test has been constantly brought up in the discussion of artificial intelligence. It has also been widely criticized. In order to exhibit intelligent behavior, the machine or computer must be able to learn,  which means it must be able to change or modify its responses based on new information. It must be able to capture information, sift through it, and improve its response. That is what humans do.

Turing later proposed a test known as the Imitation Game. A man and woman go into separate rooms and guests try to tell them apart by writing a series of questions and reading the typewritten answers sent back. Both the man and woman try to convince the guests they are the other.

ELIZA  and  CAPTCHA are more modern natural language computer programs that  aim to distinguish humans from computers.

Alan Turing died in 1952 from cyanide poisoning  just short of his 42nd birthday. The year 2012 is the 100th anniversary of Alan Turing’s birth. The “father of computer science” will be honored at Bletchley Park and Cambridge, England.

The cult classic science fiction movie “Blade Runner” starring Harrison Ford, which came out in 1982, depicts the Voight-Kampff  test to distinguish humans from replicants. These bio-engineered robots have escaped and come back to Earth illegally.

The replicants are supposed to have a four year life, but they’re trying to extend it. Wanting to live longer? Seems very human to me!




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