While we're not paying attention, artificial intelligence will creep right up on us:
A programme that convinced humans that it was a 13-year-old boy has become the first computer ever to pass the Turing Test. The test — which requires that computers are indistinguishable from humans — is considered a landmark in the development of artificial intelligence, but academics have warned that the technology could be used for cybercrime.
Computing pioneer Alan Turing said that a computer could be understood to be thinking if it passed the test, which requires that a computer dupes 30 per cent of human interrogators in five-minute text conversations.
Eugene Goostman, a computer programme made by a team based in Russia, succeeded in a test conducted at the Royal Society in London. It convinced 33 per cent of the judges that it was human, said academics at the University of Reading, which organised the test.
It is thought to be the first computer to pass the iconic test. Though other programmes have claimed successes, those included set topics or questions in advance.
Of course it's still a long way from fooling people about thinking and doing the actual thinking. There are many definitions of "intelligent life," but the one thing everybody agrees on is sentience, the simple state of self-awareness. Some scientists think no machine will ever be capable of that. I believe it will happen one day, and I find the prospect both terrifying and fascinating.
The last word on the subject remains Isaac Asimov's short story "The Last Question," which has my favorite punch-line ending of all time.