The idea of artificial intelligence and the hopes and fears that are associated with its rise are fairly prevalent in our common subconscious. Whether we imagine Judgement Day at the hands of Skynet or egalitarian totalitarianism at the hands of V.I.K.I and her army of robots – the results are the same – the equivocal displacement of humans as the dominant life forms on the planet.
Some might call it the fears of a technophobic mind, others a tame prophecy. And if the recent findings at the University of Reading (U.K.) are any indication, we may have already begun fulfilling said prophecy. In early June 2014 a historic achievement was supposedly achieved – the passing of the eternal Turing Test by a computer programme. Being hailed and derided the world over as being either the birth of artificial intelligence or a clever trickster-bot that only proved technical skill respectively, the programme known as Eugene Goostman may soon become a name embedded in history.
The programme or Eugene (to his friends) was originally created in 2001 by Vladimir Veselov from Russia and Eugene Demchenko from Ukraine. Since then it has been developed to simulate the personality and conversational patterns of a 13 year old boy and was competing against four other programmes to come out victorious. The Turing Test was held at the world famous Royal Society in London and is considered the most comprehensively designed tests ever. The requirements for a computer programme to pass the Turing Test are simple yet difficult – the ability to convince a human being that the entity that they are conversing with is another human being at least 30 percent of the time.
The result in London garnered Eugene a 33 percent success rating making it the first programme to pass the Turing Test. The test in itself was more challenging because it engaged 300 conversations, with 30 judges or human subjects, against 5 other computer programmes in simultaneous conversations between humans and machines, over five parallel tests. Across all the instances only Eugene was able to convince 33 percent of the human judges that it was a human boy. Built with algorithms that support “conversational logic” and openended topics, Eugene opened up a whole new reality of intelligent machines capable of fooling humans.
With implications in the field of artificial intelligence, cyber-crime, philosophy and metaphysics, its humbling to know that Eugene is only version 1.0 and its creators are already working on something more sophisticated and advanced.
Love in the Time of Social A.I.s
So, should humanity just begin wrapping up its affairs, ready to hand over ourselves to our emerging overlords? No. Not really. Despite the interesting results of the Turing Test, most scientists in the field of artificial intelligence aren’t that impressed. The veracity and validity of the Test itself has long been discounted as we’ve discovered more and more about intelligence, consciousness and the trickery of computer programmes. In fact, the internet is already flooded with many of his unknown kin as a report by Incapsula Research showed that nearly 62 percent of all web traffic is generated by automated computer programs commonly known as bots. Some of these bots act as social hacking tools that engage humans on websites in chats pretending to be real people (mostly women oddly enough) and luring them to malicious websites. The fact that we are already battling a silent war for less pop-up chat alerts is perhaps a nascent indication of the war we may have to face – not deadly but definitely annoying. A very real threat from these pseudoartificial intelligence powered chatbots was found to be in a specific bot called “Text- Girlie”. This flirtatious and engaging chat bot would use advanced social hacking techniques to trick humans to visit dangerous websites. The TextGirlie proactively would scour publicly available social network data and contact people on their visibly shared mobile numbers. The chatbot would send them messages pretending to be a real girl and ask them to chat in a private online room. The fun, colourful and titillating conversation would quickly lead to invitations to visit webcam sites or dating websites by clicking on links – and that when the trouble would begin. This scam affected over 15 million people over a period of months before there was any clear awareness amongst users that it was a chatbot that fooled them all. The highly likely delay was simply attributed to embarrassment at having been conned by a machine that slowed down the spread of this threat and just goes to show how easily human beings can be manipulated by seemingly intelligent machines.
Intelligent life on our planet
Its easy to snigger at the misfortune of those who’ve fallen victims to programs like Text- Girlie and wonder if there is any intelligent life on Earth, if not other planets but the smugness is short lived. Since most people are already silently and unknowingly dependent on predictive and analytical software for many of their daily needs. These programmes are just an early evolutionary ancestor of the yet to be realised fully functional artificial intelligent systems and have become integral to our way of life. The use of predictive and analytical programmes is prevalent in major industries including food and retail, telecommunications, utility routing, traffic management, financial trading, inventory management, crime detection, weather monitoring and a host of other industries at various levels. Since these type of programmes are kept distinguished from artificial intelligence due to their commercial applications its easy not to notice their ephemeral nature. But lets not kid ourselves – any analytical program with access to immense databases for the purposes of predicting patterned behaviour is the perfect archetype on which “real” artificial intelligence programs can be and will be created.
A significant case-in-point occurred amongst the tech-savvy community of Reddit users in early 2014. In the catacombs of Reddit forums dedicated to “dogecoin”, a very popular user by the name of “wise_shibe” created some serious conflict in the community. The forums normally devoted to discussing the world of dogecoins was gently disturbed when “wise_shibe” joined in the conversation offering Oriental wisdom in the form of clever remarks. The amusing and engaging dialogue offered by “wise_shibe” garnered him many fans, and given the forums facilitation of dogecoin payments, many users made token donations to “wise_shibe” in exchange for his/her “wisdom”. However, soon after his rising popularity had earned him an impressive cache of digital currency it was discovered that “wise_shibe” had an odd sense of omniscient timing and a habit of repeating himself. Eventually it was revealed that “wise_shibe” was a bot programmed to draw from a database of proverbs and sayings and post messages on chat threads with related topics. Reddit was pissed.