So, this weekend’s news in the tech world was flooded with a “story” about how a “chatbot” passed the Turing Test for “the first time,” with lots of publications buying every point in the story and talking about what a big deal it was. Except, almost everything about the story is bogus and a bunch of gullible reporters ran with it, because that’s what they do. First, here’s the press release from the University of Reading, which should have set off all sorts of alarm bells for any reporter. Here are some quotes, almost all of which are misleading or bogus:
The 65 year-old iconic Turing Test was passed for the very first time by supercomputer Eugene Goostman during Turing Test 2014 held at the renowned Royal Society in London on Saturday.
‘Eugene’, a computer programme that simulates a 13 year old boy, was developed in Saint Petersburg, Russia. The development team includes Eugene’s creator Vladimir Veselov, who was born in Russia and now lives in the United States, and Ukrainian born Eugene Demchenko who now lives in Russia.[….] If a computer is mistaken for a human more than 30% of the time during a series of five minute keyboard conversations it passes the test. No computer has ever achieved this, until now. Eugene managed to convince 33% of the human judges that it was human.
Okay, almost everything about the story is bogus. Let’s dig in:
- It’s not a “supercomputer,” it’s a chatbot. It’s a script made to mimic human conversation. There is no intelligence, artificial or not involved. It’s just a chatbot.
- Plenty of other chatbots have similarly claimed to have “passed” the Turing test in the past (often with higher ratings). Here’s a story from three years ago about another bot, Cleverbot, “passing” the Turing Test by convincing 59% of judges it was human (much higher than the 33% Eugene Goostman) claims.
- It “beat” the Turing test here by “gaming” the rules — by telling people the computer was a13-year-old boy from Ukraine in order to mentally explain away odd responses.
- The “rules” of the Turing test always seem to change. Hell, Turing’s original test was quite different anyway.
- As Chris Dixon points out, you don’t get to run a single test with judges that you picked and declare you accomplished something. That’s just not how it’s done. If someone claimed to have created nuclear fusion or cured cancer, you’d wait for some peer review and repeat tests under other circumstances before buying it, right?
- The whole concept of the Turing Test itself is kind of a joke. While it’s fun to think about, creating a chatbot that can fool humans is not really the same thing as creating artificial intelligence. Many in the AI world look on the Turing Test as a needless distraction.
Oh, and the biggest red flag of all. The event was organized by Kevin Warwick at Reading University. If you’ve spent any time at all in the tech world, you should automatically have red flags raised around that name. Warwick is somewhat infamous for his ridiculous claims to the press, which gullible reporters repeat without question. He’s been doing it for decades. All the way back in 2000, we were writing about all the ridiculous press he got for claiming to be the world’s first “cyborg” for implanting a chip in his arm. There was even a — since taken down — Kevin Warwick Watch website that mocked and categorized all of his media appearances in which gullible reporters simply repeated all of his nutty claims. Warwick had gone quiet for a while, but back in 2010, we wrote about how his lab was getting bogus press for claiming to have “the first human infected with a computer virus.” The Register has rightly referred to Warwick as both “Captain Cyborg” and a “media strumpet” and has long been chronicling his escapades in exaggerating bogus stories about the intersection of humans and computers for many, many years.
Basically, any reporter should view extraordinary claims associated with Warwick with extreme caution. But that’s not what happened at all. Instead, as is all too typical with Warwick claims, the press went nutty over it, including publications that should know better. (This newspaper was one of these “gullible” places that covered this story.)
Anyway, a lot of hubbub over nothing special that everyone seemed to buy into because of the easy headlines (which is exactly what Warwick always counts on). So, since we just spent all this time on a useless nothing, let’s end it with the obligatory xkcd: