[ExI] Turing test was passed in 1989

BillK pharos at gmail.com
Thu Apr 28 19:59:50 UTC 2022

What an abusive chatbot teaches us about the art of conversation
Tim Harford     28th April, 2022


In 1989, several years before the world watched the chess-playing
supercomputer Deep Blue vanquish the world champion Garry Kasparov, a
computer notched up a different milestone in artificial intelligence
that was all but unnoticed. This was largely because the evidence was
too crude to be publishable.
Over the next hour and 20 minutes, the two exchanged juvenile insults
and prurient questions, with MGonz goading the student into boasting
about the size of his manhood. Finally, the student called MGonz a
“stupid homosexual”, MGonz called the student “obviously an asshole”
and the student logged off, presumably writing off MGonz as an abusive

But while MGonz was abusive, it was not a troll — it was a simple
chatbot programmed by UCD undergrad Mark Humphrys that was left to
lurk online while Humphrys went to the pub. The next day, Humphrys
reviewed the chat logs in astonishment. His MGonz chatbot had passed
the Turing test.
Turing’s test is a benchmark for artificial intelligence, and a
controversial one — but I am less interested in the test itself than
in the moral of the story of MGonz’s success. Faced with the difficult
task of convincing a human that a chatbot is human, the obvious tactic
is to increase the sophistication of the chatbot. Humphrys stumbled
upon an alternative: reduce the sophistication of the human. MGonz had
passed the Turing test, but is it not also fair to say that the
student had failed it?

A good conversation involves give and take, builds over time and
exists in a context rather than a vacuum. These are all things that
any chatbot finds hard. But MGonz generates plausible dialogue because
insults need neither context nor memory. And it is impossible to read
the MGonz transcript without thinking of ugly parallels, including the
chaotic first presidential debate between Donald Trump and Joe Biden,
or any Twitter spat you care to name.

Cathy O’Neil’s book The Shame Machine describes Twitter pile-ons as
reflecting “a host of reactions: pain, fury, denial and often a
frantic search for acceptance”. It is an environment in which MGonz
would thrive.

I am not sure I can suggest much to make social media less angry and
shallow, or political discourse less pre-cooked and polarised. But
each of us can take responsibility for our own conversations. A useful
rule of thumb is that if we are having dialogues that MGonz could
emulate, we should probably be rethinking our approach.

On one hand there's the art of conversation;
and then on the other hand there's shouting abuse at each other.


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