Say 'Hi' to A.I.

Published by at 09:28am on 18th Sep 2013. Last modified at 12:02pm on 30th Sep 2013

 A chatbot called Mitsuku has won an annual contest to see if computers can convincingly imitate humans.

The chatbot took top prize in the Loebner contest. A competition that puts artificially intelligent programs through their paces. The contest involves the programs trying to convince judges they are human by answering questions put to them via an instant messaging system.

The Mitsuku website boasts that she is a new strain of Internet ‘friend’ –

‘You need never feel lonely again! Mitsuku is your new virtual friend and is here 24 hours a day just to talk to you. She learns by experience, so the more people talk to her, the smarter she becomes.’

Briton Steve Worswick who wrote Mitsuku won $4000 (£2500) for his creation. Although he has entered the Loebner contest before, 2013 was the first year he made it to the final. Winning, he said, was a big surprise.

Created by American businessman Hugh Loebner, the annual competition is an attempt to stage a real-world test of a question posted by British mathematician Alan Turing during the 1950’s.

Turing suggested that if the responses a computer gave to a series of questions were as convincing as those from a human it could reasonably be said to be thinking.

Some of the questions the chatbots get asked are designed to catch them out. Tricky questions include: "How many plums can I fit in a shoe?" and "Which is bigger, a big lion or a small mountain?" Answering those involves writing a program that does much more than just grab canned responses from a long list of possible answers, said Mr Worswick.

"The difficulty is trying to teach these things about the world because they have no sensory input," he said. Mitsuku has been built upon the Pandora bot pen source chatbot code and tools. This lack of ‘sensory input’ makes for some frustrating ‘conversations’, however Mitsuku gives clear and concise answers about most subjects, from science fiction movies to food – her favourite food is kebab, apparently.

Mr Loebner has offered a prize of $100,000 (£62000) for the computer program that meets Turing’s standard for artificial intelligence but in the 22 years the competition has been running that cash has gone unclaimed. The winner of the annual contest is the best entry relative to other entries that year, irrespective of how good it is in an absolute sense.

The four finalists in the 2013 contest went through a series of rounds that saw them chat via text with the competition judges. After four rounds of questioning the Mitsuku chatbot was declared to be the most convincing.

"I was thinking I'd use this year as a learning experience to prepare for a win next year. I thought I'd probably come second or third," Worswick said. "Winning is a dream come true."

Don’t miss The Imitation Game; 2014’s interpretation of Alan Turing’s endeavour to crack the Enigma code during WW11. The film will star Benedict Cumberbatch, Kiera Knightley, and Charles Dance.

It is impressive to see how far chatbots have evolved; OK, so Mitsuku is no HAL 9000, but it is still exciting to see how far the boundaries between humans and computers can overlap. Check her out. Have a chat.

Mitsuku Screenshot

Mitsuku Website Screenshot
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