Monday, October 19, 2009

The Turing Test in practice

While wandering on a merchant site, full of popups and flashing frames, my attention has been attracted by a new window popping up in the middle of the screen made of a title "New chat window", a text area which contains "operator>May I help you ?" and an input text field.

I was about to close this ad when a second line appeared "operator>Do you have a question ? I can help you."

This time I doubted. Fake or not fake ? I typed quickly "Are you a robot or a real person ?". The answer came a few seconds later "Don't worry, I am a real operator. May I help you ?".

The dialog went on and eventually the operator convinced me s/he was human. Not a very smart one, though. I was suggested to call the hotline for my request. But that's not the point.

The point is that for the first time I experienced the Turing Test. For a couple of minutes, I was engaging in a natural language conversation but I couldn't tell whether it was with an human or a computer, at least at the beginning.

For me, the Turing test is purely theoretical. We don't need to turn the test real until computers will be able to think. AFAIK it has never been experimented yet, except in science-fiction with its variant the Voight-Kampff test.

However, the conjunction of Internet, computerization of human communication (e.g. online chat), and creative ads pressure led to this situation. Not because computers are smart today, but rather because digital conversation brings human behavior down to the scope of a computer. But who knows, maybe that's the beginning of thinking computers anyway ?