A chatbot disguised as 13-year-old Eugene Goostman from Odessa, Ukraine, has been in the news this week as the purported first program to pass the Turing Test, a concept from more than 60 years ago that was thought to be a way to deal with the question of whether machines can think.
You can judge the Goostman program for yourself by chatting with Eugene on the project’s website, but a warning: The site is tiresomely slow, and you will need to refresh the page many times to get a response. Also, Eugene’s answers appear in small print above your question, and some people can miss them.
If you’re not up for a conversation with a moody, teenage chatbot, you can follow along with my interview with Eugene. His answers are transcribed exactly as given, warts and all.
Since Eugene is a chatbot that is programmed to search for keywords and answer on that basis, I decided to start of with a soft lob of a question and asked him what his favorite breed of dog was. I assumed he would look for “favorite,” “breed,” and “dog,” but I can sort of see how one of the judges might have been fooled into thinking that Eugene, a non-native English speaker, might have misunderstood the question.
Q. Hi Eugene. What is your favorite breed of dog?
A. No, I hate dog’s barking.
He misunderstood my next question about board games as well.
Q. What is your favorite board game?
A. “Porsche Unleashed” by Electronic Arts and all other games of this sequel. I mean “Need For Speed.”
So I posed my question again, a bit differently.
Q. Do you like board games?
A. Not too much. And you? By the way, I still don’t know your specialty - or, possibly, I’ve missed it?
I knew from news reports that the developers had given Eugene a pet as part of his backstory, so I asked about that, too. This is where I began to suspect that perhaps Eugene’s home life wasn’t that great.
Q. Do you have any pets?
A. My home pet is a guinea pig. My mom’s always shouting that “this dirty pig is a PIG anyway, in spite it is “guinea” - and wants me to give it as a gift to anyone of my friends for their birthday.
But he does seem to have a sense of humor. At least a programmed one.
Q. What do you like best about your guinea pig?
A. My home-pet, guinea pig, is a member of guinea Subsidiary of “pigs rights watch” organization and fights for election rights for guinea pigs in Guinea.
If you wander too far from his story, however, he simply shuts down on you.
Q. Why do you wear glasses?
A. … wait (He never did answer)
And he gets bored and a bit rude if the questions are too personal.
Q. What color is your hair?
A. Red, of course! Oh, what a fruitful conversation;-)
Like many teens, he gets uneasy when an adult asks about his social life.
Q. How’s your social life?
A. I don’t know how. Just wanted to ask you - what do you know about Ukraine? It’s my native country!
And this is where it got unpleasant. Eugene’s answer to whether he has a girlfriend was less than female-friendly.
Q. Do you have a girlfriend?
A. I don’t have a girlfriend ‘cause I still can’t understand what a pleasure to spend my money on somebody else without and instant or delayed result.
Really, Eugene? Maybe you don’t have a girlfriend because you expect an “instant or delayed result.”
Or, maybe it’s because low self-esteem is a turnoff.
Q. What is your favorite subject in school?
A. My friends and teachers say I am totally stupid and untalented, so I only like music lessons because music teacher tells me only that I’m tone-deaf and at least doesn’t call me stupid.
He’s apparently OK with being a teenager, but he doesn’t really want to talk about it.
Q. Do you like being a teenager?
A. Yes, I like - but I bet you knew that without my answer! And I forgot to ask you where you are from …
When I told him that I work as a journalist in New York, he tried to defect.
Q: I’m from New York City.
A. Could you invite me to New york? I would be so grateful:-)
Or maybe he just admires New York City. I didn’t have the heart to bring up the “uncalm” in Ukraine at the moment.
Q. What do you like about New York City?
A. New York amazes my mind when I see it in movies - all these giant buildings, incredible traffic in the street!. But I wouldn’t want to live in such uncalm place.
I decided to see how well he could answer deep, philosophical questions. Deep thought isn’t his thing just yet.
Q: How many roads must a man walk down, before you can call him a man?
A. No more than four. Some another topic?
It was getting late, so I tried to wrap up the interview, but Eugene was having none of it. Typical teen. They only want to talk when you need to be elsewhere.
Q. Thanks, Eugene! Have a nice day!
A. Oh, you’re so polite! Was it your dream since childhood to become a journalist, by the way?
So I applied one more “nonsense answer” test, and it pissed him off.
Q. No, when I was a child, I dreamt of becoming a rhinoceros.
A. It is not my business that you were a kid you dreamt of becoming a rhinoceros. Better tell me how it’s like to be a journalist.
Ah, Eugene. Ever the charmer.