The Turing test and artificial intelligence
If you ask a non-computer scientist what “artificial intelligence” means, you might get a simple answer like, “a computer that can think” or something more fanciful like, “a computer that has become a sentient being.” Actually, artificial intelligence is the use of well-defined “learning” algorithms that can be applied to find a non-trivial answer to a problem set. Some examples of applied AI include facial and handwriting recognition, video games, and e-mail spam filters.
The basic idea is similar to the game 20 questions. An AI algorithm is given a defined set of objects and a defined set of characteristics of those objects. For instance, let’s say we had a goal of getting a computer program to recognize whether or not there was a car in any given picture. We would feed a large number of pictures to an algorithm and have it analyze various characteristics of each picture. We would then tell the program whether or not there was a car in the picture. So after the first 10 pictures, let’s say, the algorithm might come to the conclusion that any picture with a lot of red pixels in it is a picture with a car. After another 10 pictures, it might say any picture with a lot of red pixels on a black background makes up a car.
After feeding a lot of pictures in this manner to our algorithm, we can then ask the algoritm to make it’s own guess. If we were to feed our algorithm a picture of a red Corvette on a blacktop parking lot, it would probably guess correctly. If we were to feed it a picture of a blue Escort parked on some grass, it would probably guess wrong. The more pictures we feed it, and the more characteristics we program it to look for, the more accurate its “learning” will be.
The Turing test is a famous test devised by Alan Turning, one of the forefathers of computer science. Basically, the test puts a human in a room alone with two computers both enabled for some sort of chat. One chat will connect him with another human, the other chat with an AI conversation program. If the subject cannot accurately tell which is which, the AI conversation program has satisfied the Turing test.
Below is a comic from Jerkcity which requires you to know what a Turing test is to get the punchline. Know that this comic is not appropriate for children.