Programs compete in Turing test for Loebner Prize

Six computer programs will try to pass themselves off as humans this Sunday.

Six computer programs will try to pass themselves off as humans this Sunday.

They will compete for the annual Loebner Prize, held this year at Reading University's cybernetics department, for a machine that passes the Turing Test.

The test is named after Alan Turing, the British mathematician and Bletchley Park code-breaker. Turing asked: "Can a machine think?" He believed it was possible, but a central question was, if a computer could think, how could we tell? Turing said if the responses from the computer were indistinguishable from those of a human, the computer could be said to be thinking.

Each program and its "confederate" human will respond to text messages on any topic sent to them by other humans. If after five minutes' chat the sender can not tell the difference between the program and its confederate, that program is the winner.

Last year's winner, Robert Medeksza, developed Ultra Hal, a digital secretary and companion. According to the website, he (or she) will remind you of appointments, keep an address and phone book and even dial numbers for you. Hal will also run programs and recent documents on either text or voice command. And if you are feeling lonely, Hal has huge conversational database and can chat about anything.

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