Sara's Column: Turing Test sparks Artificial Intelligence forecasts

Artificial Intelligence is apparently the phrase of the week this week.
Jun 13, 2014
Sara McManamy-Johnson

Artificial Intelligence is apparently the phrase of the week this week.

We can likely thank the University of Reading and a team of Russian scientists for that. The university announced Sunday that a computer program passed the famous Turing Test for the first time, marking a milestone in artificial intelligence.

The Turing Test is based on 20th century mathematician and code-breaker Alan Turing’s 1950 famous question and answer game, ‘Can Machines Think?’. The experiment investigates whether people can detect if they are talking to machines or humans. 

If a computer is mistaken for a human more than 30 percent of the time during a series of five-minute keyboard conversations, it passes the test. 

The program, which simulated a 13-year-old boy named Eugene Goostman, managed to convince 33 percent, or 10 out of 30, human judges that it was human.

Eugene was one of five computer programs battling it for the Turing Test 2014 Prize in a contest organized by the University of Reading.

Although news of the milestone quickly spread across the Internet, the achievement was not without its detractors, many of whom pointed out that 33 percent is a remarkably low percentage, among other points.

Despite its detractors, the news seemed to get many people speculating about where artificial intelligence would be x, y or z number of years down the road. As I read some of the predictions, I started to be reminded of basically every futuristic book I’d ever read or movie I’d ever seen. And I realized it’s probably not a coincidence that the majority of those predict a pretty dystopic scenario.

Of all the predictions I encountered, though, the most disconcerting one came from NBC News. 

The headline alone was enough to raise my hackles slightly: “Top Google Engineer Says Computers Will Be Like Humans by 2029.”

Somehow I doubt it.

The article published Wednesday quotes Google’s Director of Engineering Ray Kurzwell.

“‘My timeline is that computers will be at human levels, such as you can have a human relationship with them, 15 years from now…When I say about human levels, I’m talking about the ability to tell a joke, to be funny, to be romantic, to be loving, to be sexy, that is the cutting edge of human intelligence, that is not a sideshow,’” said Kurzwell. He was apparently speaking at a conference in New York when he made the comment.

Kurzwell also predicted that people would be able to connect their brains to the cloud to “expand their knowledge and memory” and that computerized devices would eventually be the size of blood cells that could be put into our brains.

“‘These will basically put our neocortex on the cloud,’” said Kurzwell, according to the NBC News story.

I’m not even comfortable putting my debit card number on the cloud–I think I’ll keep my neocortex where it is, thank you.

Sara McManamy-Johnson is the digital content director for The Lebanon Democrat and Wilson County News. Email her at or follow her on Twitter @wilsoncoreports. 


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