Tuesday, 10 June 2014

I, Robot

The press were delighted over the weekend to announce that finally a computer has passed the Turing Test. The test, devised by Alan Turing in 1950 is a measure of a machine's ability to exhibit intelligent behaviour indistinguishable from that of a human. If the human participant in a conversation between man and machine cannot reliably tell that he is not talking to another human being, the machine is said to have passed the test. And now a programme called Eugene has managed to convince a third of its human subjects that (while not necessarily representing humanity as we know it) they were conversing with a thirteen year old boy.

I don’t see what all the fuss is about. For a start, half the perverts on teenage internet chat rooms have been posing as thirteen-year-olds for years. But also it has come to my attention that such research has already gone way beyond a mere five-minute keyboard-based ‘chat’. I have recently been made aware of the findings of a Cambridge robotics laboratory’s work in producing a life-sized, human-emulating android. The robot has been involved in field trials under controlled conditions for a number of years now.

The following are quotations from the papers I have been privileged to have access to and summarise some of the group’s findings:

“25/09/2010: Android first trialled on unsuspecting public. General reaction was muted acceptance, although the jerky and sometimes spasmodic physical articulation soon gave away non-human core and more work is needed to model a more realistic and believable head. Speech somewhat stilted and the lack of fluency and focus needs to be tweaked. Conclusion of observers: Not human.”

“30/06/2011: New, smoother voice software installed and physical movement toned down. It was decided to reduce emotion facsimile to a minimum and have the machine sitting down and stable while answering a series of questions. First responses good, but on entering a verbal feedback loop it became impossible to exit; the robot began to repeat answers and very quickly its interviewer expressed doubts about dealing with an autonomously cognitive entity. Some difficulty in switching off and terminating the experiment. Still need more work on facial prosthetics? Conclusion: Not human.”

“17/04/2013: Tried exhibiting machine on small dais in Cambridge market, using a scripted speech with crowd-interactive opportunities. Robot successfully engaged small gathering for several minutes with detached monologue but was not so convincing when attempting to respond to questions in a human manner. Some odd answers resulted, often unconnected to actual queries, so experiment was terminated as crowd drifted away. Some educationally challenged participants and juveniles were taken in for a while but a number of parents complained about the strange grimaces and nasal whine frightening small children. Conclusion: Not human.”

I robot
One of these humanoids isn't really human...

“21/05/2014: After much work on physical presentation, movements are still somewhat spasmodic and unconvincing. However, determined to push on, we embarked on a last ditch nationwide tour, in order to try and fool as many people as we could by only allowing brief exposure to the latest prototype and limiting its speech to meaningless sound bites. Robot lasted less than twenty-four hours before the frankly embarrassing bacon sandwich incident, after which the team is seriously considering ‘recycling’ it or melting it down for scrap. Conclusion: Project Ed Miliband is unlikely to ever fool anybody.”

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