Man vs. Machine debate to be put to the test at public lecture

University news

Wednesday 06 May 2015

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A forthcoming lecture at Coventry University will explore the implications of an experiment in which a computer tricked people into thinking it was a human being.
Professor Kevin Warwick, the university’s deputy vice-chancellor for research, will be delivering the lecture, entitled “Turing’s Imitation Game”, at the Coventry University Techno Centre on Wednesday 13 May. The lecture is open to the public and is free to attend.
Professor Warwick, whose own research interests include artificial intelligence, biomedical engineering and robotics, will use the results from an event he helped organise at the Royal Society in London last year - in which a ‘supercomputer’ passed the Turing Test for the very first time  - as the basis for his lecture. 

Devised by famed mathematician, computer science pioneer and Second World War code breaker Alan Turing in 1950, the Turing Test examines a machine's ability to exhibit intelligent ‘thought’ indistinguishable from that of a human. 

Widely regarded as an essential concept in the philosophy of artificial intelligence, the Turing Test takes the form of a three-way imitation game involving a series of anonymised text-only conversations between a human judge, another person and a computer designed to generate human-like responses during the exchange. 

If the computer is mistaken for a human it is deemed to have passed the test  - but only if this happens more than 30% of the time during the trial. No computer had ever achieved this feat in general conversation until last year’s Royal Society event when ‘Eugene Gootsman’ - a Russian developed computer programme with the ‘personality’ of a 13 year old boy - convinced 33% of the judges that it was human.

Professor Warwick’s forthcoming lecture will therefore focus on the wider societal implications of this landmark moment in the history of artificial intelligence and will discuss the potentially serious offshoots in the shape of cybercrime and identify theft.  

The discussion will also be light-hearted in parts with opportunities for those attending to participate in a Turing style test. Professor Warwick will show transcripts from a numbers of tests that have been run - including those from last year’s Royal Society experiment, which are being made public for the first time - and the audience will have to decide if the transcribed conversations are human or machine. 

Professor Warwick’s lecture comes ahead of a paper that he has co-authored with Coventry University colleague Huma Shah on the results of the Royal Society trial. Entitled, “Can Machines Think? A Report on Turing Test Experiments at the Royal Society",  the paper has been accepted by the Journal of Experimental and Theoretical Artificial Intelligence and is due to be published shortly.

Professor Kevin Warwick said: 

The idea that a computer can convince people into believing that it is not a machine but rather a human being is a fascinating and potentially frightening concept in today’s online, connected world. So my lecture next week will explore the implications of last year’s Royal Society experiment. 

I want to examine what this means for all of us in an age of online communication and internet transactions but I want to have some fun too so I can promise the audience that  - in tune with the subject matter - this will be very much an interactive event.

Professor Kevin Warwick’s lecture, “Turing’s Imitation Game”, takes place from 4pm to 5pm on Wednesday 13 May at the Coventry University Techno Centre, Puma Way, Coventry CV1 2TT.  Attendance is free but places must be booked online in advance. 

Professor Warwick’s talk forms part of Coventry University’s free professorial lecture series, in which members of its academic community offer their expertise and opinions on a range of contemporary topics to staff, students and members of the public.