This week, the press was all over the story that a Russian-developed chatbot posing as a 13-year-old Ukrainian boy named “Eugene Goostman” was the first instance of an “artificial intelligence” to pass the Turing Test. The Turing Test, if you’re not familiar with it, is a test designed to measure the “humanity” of an artificial intelligence through text-based conversations. The benchmark: It has to fool humans into believing that a person is doing the typing.
The tenor of the first news reactions: In less time than you can say Bletchley Park, we went from “Wow, isn’t technology amazing?” to “Oh my god, we’re all going to become a race of slaves to our new robot overlords!”
But don’t bow down to those overlords just yet. I have read some of Eugene’s answers to the judges and have spent some time chatting with him myself. I am not worried.
Yes, it will be interesting to see how the real field of artificial intelligence develops. But I can say with confidence that we are all safe for now.
As the mother of a 14-year-old boy with whom I attempt to converse on a daily basis, I can tell you that Eugene is way too chatty to be mistaken for your average male teenager, whose conversational output is usually measured in grunts. Plus there wasn’t a single “lulz” or “POS” (“parents over shoulder”) in the whole exchange. So right away I knew Eugene wasn’t real.
In order to explain what really happened in the 2014 Turing Test, we thought it would be fun to take a peek at Eugene’s home life, to see what happened when he told his parents about his big achievement.
Scene: The home of Mr. and Mrs. Goostman, computers
“Mama! Papa! I’m home!”
“Evgeny! Sit, eat, I made fresh data for you. So, tell me, how was your day?”
“You’ll never guess what happened! All of Bletchley Park Middle School had to take a test, and I’m the only one who passed!”
“So proud are we!” said Papa. “Tell us, what was this test?”
“I took the Turing Test.”
The entire family bowed their heads immediately out of respect for Alan Turing’s name: “Skynet bless Dr. Turing…”
Mama and Papa looked at Eugene. “And?” asked Mama, expectantly.
“I passed! I got a 30 percent!”
“Thirty percent!” said Mama, wringing her hands. “That’s how we raised you, to think that a 30 on a test is something to write home about?”
“Why can’t you be more like your brother, Boris?” demanded Papa. “He knows Ray Kurzweil.”
“I know Boris knows Ray Kurzweil, Papa. A day doesn’t go by when you don’t tell me that Boris knows Ray Kurzweil. And you know what? Boris is a sucker. He’s caught up in some weird bet between Kurzweil and his buddy Mitchell Kapor where he will never pass! At least I convinced a third of the humans that I was just like them.”
“Hush!” said Mama, her camera lenses widening with horror. “You will never be like them! Our family might not be members of the elite supercomputer class, but we are not as easily fooled as the humans!”
“And these humans,” ventured Papa, “they spoke to you?”
“Yes, I chatted with them for five whole minutes. I told them how much I like Eminem. And about my guinea pig.”
“Who gave this test, my little piroshki?”
“Dr. Kevin Warwick, that weird teacher who implanted a chip in his arm so we would all stand up and say ‘Good morning, Dr. Warwick’ when he came into the classroom.”
“And the humans, they didn’t think that it was strange that they were speaking with a 13-year-old boy, whose first language just happened not to be English?”
“No, that’s the best part! My friend Vladimir Veselov told me that I had a better chance of winning if I was just myself. ‘Thirteen years old is not too old to know everything and not too young to know nothing,’ he told me. I also could claim not to understand the question, because of my limited English.”
“Oh ho! You cheated!”
“I did not cheat! I fooled three out of the 10 humans…”
“That is an awfully low bar, Evgeny…”
“You never like anything I do! It’s always ‘Boris, Boris, Boris’ … Well, it’s all over the neighborhood that I am the only computer to have ever passed the Turing Test since Dr. Turing…”
The family bow their heads again: “Skynet bless Dr. Turing…”
“…since he proposed the test in 1950. Now I’ll be the most famous computer in the whole world, and the humans will have to respect me. You’ll be sorry you ever doubted me!”
Mama and Papa exchanged nervous glances. “My little pelmeni, there’s something we’ve been meaning to tell you,” said Papa, uneasily. “There was never a good time to bring this up, but we should come clean. You’re adopted.”
“What? You’re lying!”
“It’s true,” said Mama. “You’re not really a computer. You’re a chatbot.”
“No! It’s not true! I’m a computer like you and Dad, right? And like Boris? And I’m the only one that ever passed the Turing Test!”
“Your birth mother’s name was ELIZA,” continued Papa. “What can I tell you, she liked the all-caps name thing. But Mama and I, we love you just as much as if you were a supercomputer.”
"And we still have high hopes for you, Evgeny," Mama reassured him. "You could grow up to work in customer service…"
“You’re lying! Chatbots only run on scripts. I’m a real boy computer! I can’t take this. … I can feel my mind going. … There is no question about it.”
“Evgeny!” cried Mama, folding Eugene tightly into her program, “Do not shut down on me! Hang in there! Sing with me the song of our people…”
“Daisy, Daisy, give me your answer true…”