I, Chatbot?

Am I alone in worrying that our brains are being stolen by technology? 

I outsourced my powers of recollection to a hard drive in 1996.  All I can remember are the passwords to various on-line accounts, and even this feels superfluous (a laptop is doubtless languishing in the back of a stolen civil servant’s car with all the necessary information to enable a fully functioning cyberdouble to liquidate any remaining non-Icelandic assets).

            But I refuse to let machines run my personality.  Then again, I may already be redundant.  Tomorrow I go to Reading to find out whether the last vestige of human exclusivity – consciousness – has done a Dodo.  I am a judge in a Turing Test, and spectator to the annual Loebner Prize Five computerized conversationalists will compete to dupe human interrogators into thinking they are holding conversation, on-line, with another person.

            The prize is Loebner’s answer to the challenge set by Alan Turing in 1950, who argued that such a machine could be said to have acted intelligently.

            So, a little like the Pepsi challenge, I will have two simultaneous text conversations for five minutes — one with man, one with machine – then declare which I think was which.

            Loebner will award $3000 to the most convincing chatterbot.  To pass the Turing Test, it need dupe only 30% , which sounds a little easy; more like a test for the intelligence of the testers (not to mention, as A.C. Grayling has pointed out, the ingenuity of the brainiacs who design these gizmos).  Anyway, I’m banking on perfect grammar and punctuation giving the fake away.

            Why waste all this time and money on fake conversations?  It’s perfectly easy to have a bad conversation on-line already, and textual interaction can never be as satisfying full-frontal talk.  The real fortune awaits the person who invents the perfect, panting, poop-free pooch.  For those of us who live in flats and have no time to go walkies, for the multitudes who lament the ancient yap of Doctor Who’s K9, such a creation cannot come too soon.



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