Eugene Goostman is a computer, not a young boy. But this weekend, according to The Independent, its AI fooled more than 30 percent of its genuinely human judges to think the opposite. So at an event held by the University of Reading at the famed Royal Society of London, Eugene appeared to become the first AI to officially pass the Turing Test, a long-time challenge based on tech pioneer Alan Turing's question and answer game, "Can Machines Think?".
"Some will claim that the Test has already been passed. The words Turing Test have been applied to similar competitions around the world," said Kevin Warwick, a visiting professor at the University of Reading and Deputy Vice-Chancellor for Research at Coventry University, according to the event press release. "However this event involved more simultaneous comparison tests than ever before, was independently verified, and, crucially, the conversations were unrestricted. A true Turing Test does not set the questions or topics prior to the conversations. We are therefore proud to declare that Alan Turing's Test was passed for the first time on Saturday."
Eugene was one of five supercomputers tackling the challenge at this weekend's event, held precisely 60 years after Turing's death on June 7, 1954. It was designed by a team in Saint Petersburg, Russia, led by creator Vladimir Veselov (who was born in Russia and now lives in the US). An earlier version of Eugene is hosted online for anyone to interact with, according to The Independent (though with interest understandably high right now, we've been unable to access it).
"Eugene was 'born' in 2001. Our main idea was that he can claim that he knows anything, but his age also makes it perfectly reasonable that he doesn't know everything," Veselov said according to the event press release. "We spent a lot of time developing a character with a believable personality. This year we improved the 'dialog controller' which makes the conversation far more human-like when compared to programs that just answer questions. Going forward we plan to make Eugene smarter and continue working on improving what we refer to as 'conversation logic.'"
As CNET points out, there are sure to be questions about the results and complaints about Eugene's M.O. After all, a 13-year-old boy doesn't have to display the same level of knowledge and thought as a computer like Watson would need to in order to pass the Turing Test. But Eugene did not eek out its victory, rather it fooled 33 percent of all judges during a series of five-minute keyboard conversations. (Notable judges according to the press release included Robert Llewellyn, who played robot Kryten in the TV series Red Dwarf, and Lord Sharkey, who led the campaign for Turing's posthumous pardon in 2013.)
Kottke.org notes that, if the results hold, Mr. Singularity himself Ray Kurzweil will be a happy man. That's because he placed the first Long Bet—a series of prediction competitions to benefit charity—against Lotus founder Mitchell Kapor that a computer would pass the Turing Test by 2029. If Kurzweil officially wins, $20,000 could go to the Kurzweil Foundation.