1 January 2012

You, robot

2012 is the centenary of the birth of Alan Turing, the second world war code-breaker who dreamed up the test in 1950 while pondering the notion of a thinking machine, so expect a flurry of competitions in his honour. Bear in mind, though, that the Turing test is a poor gauge for today's AIs. For one thing, the test's demand that a program capture the nuances of human speech makes it too hard. At the same time, it is too narrow: with bots influencing the stock market, landing planes and poised to start driving cars, why focus only on linguistic smarts? One alternative is a suite of mini Turing tests each designed to evaluate machine intelligence in a specific arena. For example, a newly created visual Turing test assesses a bot's ability to understand the spatial relationships between objects in an image against that of a human. Others want to stop using humans as the benchmark. Using a universal, mathematical definition of intelligence, it could soon be possible to score people and computers on a scale untainted by human bias. Such universal tests should even be able to spot a bot that is far smarter than a human.
-- Paul Marks

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