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Can a machine think?

Can a machine think?In 2006 a British company won a prize for the most ‘human’ computer program. Her name was Joan.

The Loebner Prize for artificial intelligence (AI) goes to the computer program that appears to be most human. The way it is measured is through the Turing Test. Named after Alan Turing, a British mathematician, the test looks at how similar the computer’s response is to that of a human being.

For the second time running, a British firm called Icogno, won the bronze medal. Nobody has ever won the gold prize, which is when a computer is so ‘intelligent’, the judges are fooled into thinking that they are talking with a real person.

Chatter bots

Joan (pictured) and George, artificially intelligent beings, exist on a set of computer servers. You can talk to these ‘chatbots’ online via the Jabberwacky website. The reason that Joan and George are so unusual is that they are constantly learning more conversation skills and words by talking to the public.

George won the prize last year, but Joan is even more sophisticated. She is better at learning from the people she talks to and she also manages to maintain her own personality, which according to her creators, is that of a "26-year-old budding writer".

Want to see how Joan won the contest? Here’s an extract from the conversation she had with one of the judges:

Judge: But can't a machine think?
Joan: It may be possible.
Judge: And conscious?
Joan: Not after I'm done with you.
Judge: What are you going to do to me?
Joan: Nothing. I just wanted to talk.
Judge: What about?
Joan: Being tested like this.

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