What Is the Turing Test?

The Turing Test is a proposed measure of determining whether a machine can demonstrate human intelligence in thoughts, words, or actions. In other words, if you cannot tell if responses are made by a human or a machine (or if you think the machine is a human), then the machine has passed the Turing Test.

The Turing Test was proposed by mathematician and computer scientist Alan Turing in 1950 and is the basis for the philosophy behind Artificial Intelligence (AI).

Key Takeaways

  • The Turing Test is a method for understanding if artificial intelligence is capable of replicating human responses.
  • To pass the Turing Test, a machine must be able to fool an observer into thinking that it is a human being based on how it responds to various prompts.
  • Various iterations of the Test have been developed since Alan Turing first proposed the idea back in 1950, although not all researchers are convinced that passing the Turing Test implies intelligence.

How the Turing Test Works

From the abacus to the supercomputer, the advancing front of technology is visible in every walk of life today. We have language processors that can translate one language to another within the blink of an eye; cleaning robots that can clean an entire home in minutes; finance robots that create retirement portfolios; wearable devices that track your health and fitness levels; and the list goes on and on.

Technology experts always strive to better a previous technological process or invention, hence, the reason for the term disruptive technology. At the forefront of disruptive technology are those who pioneer the notion of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and who seek to create machines and robots that can pass for humans.

A British mathematician and early computer scientist, Alan Turing, designed a method of evaluating whether a machine can be labeled as human. As a way to measure technology’s progress, he started out by pondering on the question “Can machines think?” He initiated a series of tests that is meant to help humans answer the question. The test comprises of an interrogation room run by a “judge”. There are two unseen subjects in individual terminals being judged: a person and a computer program. The judge makes dialogue with both parties and based on the quality of conversation that ensues within a designated time frame, attempts to identify which is the human and which is the computer. Turing concludes that if the judge is as likely to pick either human or computer, then the computer has succeeded in demonstrating human intelligence and therefore can “think.”

The Turing Test Today

The modern version of the Turing Test has more than one human judge interrogating and chatting with both subjects. The test is marked as successful if more than 30% of the judges, after five minutes of conversation, consider the computer to be human.

The Loebner Prize is an annual Turing Test competition that was started in 1991 by Hugh Loebner, an American inventor and activist. Loebner created additional rules to the original Turing Test, calling for the human and computer program to have 25-minute conversations with each of the four judges presiding over the competition. The winner of the competition (not necessarily one that passes the Turing Test) is one whose computer bot received the most votes and highest ranking from the judges, regardless of whether 30% of the judges voted for it. Although Alan Turing predicted that by the year 2000 machines would eventually pass the Turing Test, this did not come to pass until (arguably) 2014.

In 2014, Kevin Warwick of the University of Reading organized a Turing Test competition to mark the 60th anniversary of Alan Turing’s death. A computer chatbot called Eugene Goostman, who had the persona of a 13-year-old boy, passed the Turing Test in this event. He secured the votes of 33% of the judges who were convinced that he was human.

Critics of the Turing Test

Just as there are supporters of the Turing Test in the field of Artificial Intelligence, there are also non-believers of this theory. Critics of the test believe that even if a computer was judged as having the ability to think, it will never be sophisticated enough to have a mind of its own. They believe that genuine and true intelligence lies within the numerous complex nerve cells that naturally make up the human brain, and not a programming code that a machine is built upon.

Regardless of the contrasting thoughts regarding the Turing Test, the test has arguably opened doors for more innovation and inventions in the technology sphere.