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One hundred years after Alan Turing was born, his eponymous test remains an elusive benchmark for artificial intelligence. Now, for the first time in decades, it’s possible to imagine a machine making the grade.
Turing was one of the 20th century’s great mathematicians, a conceptual architect of modern computing whose codebreaking played a decisive part in World War II. His test, described in a seminal dawn-of-the-computer-age paper, was deceptively simple: If a machine could pass for human in conversation, the machine could be considered intelligent.
Artificial intelligences are now ubiquitous, from GPS navigation systems and Google algorithms to automated customer service and Apple’s Siri, to say nothing of Deep Blue and Watson — but no machine has met Turing’s standard. The quest to do so, however, and the lines of research inspired by the general challenge of modeling human thought, have profoundly influenced both computer and cognitive science.
There is reason to believe that code kernels for the first Turing-intelligent machine have already been written.
“Two revolutionary advances in information technology may bring the Turing test out of retirement,” wrote Robert French, a cognitive scientist at the French National Center for Scientific Research, in an Apr. 12 Science essay. “The first is the ready availability of vast amounts of raw data — from video feeds to complete sound environments, and from casual conversations to technical documents on every conceivable subject. The second is the advent of sophisticated techniques for collecting, organizing, and processing this rich collection of data.”
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The American scientist invented the computer language LISP. It went on to become the programming language of choice for the AI community, and is still used today.
Professor McCarthy is also credited with coining the term “Artificial Intelligence” in 1955 when he detailed plans for the first Dartmouth conference. The brainstorming sessions helped focus early AI research.
Prof McCarthy’s proposal for the event put forward the idea that “every aspect of learning or any other feature of intelligence can in principle be so precisely described that a machine can be made to simulate it”.
The conference, which took place in the summer of 1956, brought together experts in language, sensory input, learning machines and other fields to discuss the potential of information technology.
Other AI experts describe it as a critical moment.
“John McCarthy was foundational in the creation of the discipline Artificial Intelligence,” said Noel Sharkey, Professor of Artificial Intelligence at the University of Sheffield.
“His contribution in naming the subject and organising the Dartmouth conference still resonates today.”