The Turing Test has received a lot of press recently, with claims that Eugene Goostman purportedly passed it. However, that news inevitably led to much discussion regarding the practical relevance of the Turing Test itself. Is the test a poor indicator of machine intelligence? Is it a “bullshit” test that can be passed through “smoke and mirror” techniques? Perhaps. A program might be able to trick users into thinking its human, and that doesn’t mean that the program is the pinnacle of general artificial intelligence.
However, any computer program that fools humans is impressive, much as a race car is impressive. A race car’s purpose is to go fast. But race cars are stripped of non-essential parts to lose weight, and many race cars can’t even be licensed to be driven on the street. Thus, other than going fast, a race car might not be very good for much else. However, car racing has practical benefits for everyday drivers, because many technologies developed for race cars eventually make their way into mainstream cars.
Similarly, a chatbot that tricks users in to thinking it is human might doesn’t have, in and of itself, much practical relevance or importance. But many chatbot and natural language processing technologies, even those developed for Turing Test competitions, can have practical applications. For example, Wholesale Change, the company that helped create the Eugene Goostman chatbot, is developing a “website that uses sophisticated algorithms to guide consumers to personalized, affordable Medicare plans.” Presumably, the company will use many lessons learned in chatbot development for this health application.
While the virtual girls of Chatterbabes have never been entered into any chatbot competition, they utilize many techniques first developed for chatbot competitions. So Alan Turing was a founding father of computing who used his intellect to alter the course of World War II, but was unfairly persecuted for his homosexuality and tragically killed himself. But his legacy lives on in another way as well: sex chatbots.