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Life or machine tested in 18th Loebner Prize

By Joshua S Hill Oct 13, 2008, 22:07 GMT

Now in its 18th year, the Loebner Prize is an annual competition to see whether computer programmers can create a computer program apt enough to disguise itself as a real human being. The competition is based upon the Turing test, first described by Alan Turing in his 1950 paper “Computing Machinery and Intelligence.”

The test sees a human judge engaging in a natural language conversation with one human and one machine. The test is completely text based, and both computer and human must attempt to convince the judge that they are the human.

Turing’s test looks for a program that can fool more than 30% of judges. Sunday’s competition saw Fred Roberts' Elbot come away with the bronze first prize, after convincing 3 out of 12 judges that it was in fact human.

The Loebner prize awards a bronze medal to whatever program best mimics a human. However, no program has ever won the gold or silver prizes. The silver prize would be awarded to a program that can survive a longer Turing test and fool at least half the judges. A gold prize would be awarded to the program that could process audio and visual information, rather than just text.

"There was one time when I was speaking to the two, and there was an element of humor in both conversations. That's the one that stumped me more than others," said Ian Andrews, one of the judges in Reading, just west of London.

“I walked into the corridor, no longer certain of anything,” said another judge, Will Pavia, in his Times column. “There was a man serving drinks at a table. Opposite him, there was a drinks machine, branded with the word Ribena. I thought I could tell which was the machine, but how could I be sure anymore?”

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