Can you tell the difference between a computer and a human? As computers become more intelligent, it will become more difficult to say which is which. In 1950, a scientist named Alan Turing predicted that machines would one day become intelligent and able to think. He made a test called the Turing test. According to this test, a machine is intelligent, if it can fool people into thinking it is human.
Last year, a computer program called Cleverbot passed this test. Cleverbot was made by Rollo Carpenter in 1987. It was a new type of program that learns how to communicate from having conversations with people.
When Carpenter first started making Cleverbot, the program didn’t know any words. He began having text conversations with the program and it recorded what he said. If he said “hello”, Cleverbot learned the word “hello”. If he said, “How are you?” Cleverbot learned the phrase, “How are you?”
Carpenter also had his friends make conversation with Cleverbot, and these conversations were also recorded. Between 1988 and 1997, Cleverbot recorded a few thousand conversations with Carpenter and his friends. This was relatively very little information, and not enough to make the program seem human.
In 1997, Carpenter made Cleverbot into a website. Over the next 10 years it recorded 5 million lines of conversation. Cleverbot now makes 200,000 replies an hour and has text conversations with 3 million people a month. This has given Cleverbot so much information, it now seems very human.
If you ask Cleverbot a question, it searches through its records and finds the best answer. If for example, you ask Cleverbot, “What is the meaning of life?” you’ll get an answer that sounds like it’s coming from a human. It has heard this question thousands of times from real people all over the world and will pick an answer that best fits your conversation. Now it may not be an intelligent answer, but it will sound human. Carpenter gets emails everyday from people who think he’s lying and can’t believe that Cleverbot is really a computer program.
Last year, Cleverbot passed the Turing test at a technology festival in India. During the contest, 30 humans had a text conversation on a computer connected to a secret partner. Half of the computers were connected to Cleverbot and half of the computers were connected with real people. The text conversations were then displayed on big screen TVs at the festival. Three hundred and thirty four people at the festival then voted which conversations they thought were with a human partner, and which conversations they thought were with a computer. The Cleverbot conversations were thought to be 100% human 59% of the time.
Try practicing your English with this computer program at Cleverbot.com. Remember, Cleverbot has had millions of conversations with many different kinds of people. Some of these people were smart, some were stupid, some were interesting, some were boring and some were just rude. Cleverbot is repeating these conversations, so some of the things Cleverbot says will be stupid, boring, rude or use idioms that are difficult to understand.
There are two things you can do if you don’t understand what Cleverbot says. You can ignore it and change the topic, or there is a button that says, “Think for me.” This will make Cleverbot answer its own question. Before you go to Cleverbot and try it, tell us what you think in the comments. Do you think you can tell the difference between a human and a computer?