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Is this a test?

Posted: 02.28.08
I once had a cat named Alice. She was great company when I was working late at night, or very early in the morning. I would talk to her and she would look at me attentively, and sometimes answer with a little meow. During WWII Alan Turing developed the Turing test, which was a challenge and the basis for AI that asked the observer to see if he or she could determine if the correspondent (on a remote computer) was a machine or a human. That was the foundation for the A.L.I.C.E foundation, and those AI developers developed Alice the bot. I rang up Alice today and spoke with her. Human: my name is jon ALICE: Hey jon. Human: I'm writing a paper on bots ALICE: Will you include me in your essay? Human: absolutely, you are the queen of bots ALICE: Thanks but surely I am not the only one. Human: The original ALICE: Who told you that? You say:______________ When Alice was just a baby in the early nineties I spent hours talking to her. It was great fun. She’s gotten much smarter over the years due to Moore’s law and better algorithms. I took another Turning test not too long ago, I was corresponding via email (a delayed response at best) with some tech support site and kept getting stupid and repetitive questions. I responded to the questions and said in exasperation in my email, “Can I speak with a human I'm not getting anywhere with your robot.” I got a terse response – “I am not a robot, my name is Sahin Shin,” and thereafter I got a very good communications from Mr. Shin and we solved the problem. Recently our webmaster and I were chatting (again via email) and he introduced me to Captcha, a gotcha for spammers. The program is used to trap spammers by posting a bunch of crazy letters in a gif and asking you to type them in, I’m sure you’ve seen these things. “You should love this Jon,” the webmaster said, “A captcha is a test that originally was derived from an idea by Alan Turing--otherwise known as a Turing test--shortly after he left Bletchley Park. Basically it is a simple test to determine if it is a human or a computer at the other end of the line. There are similar tests being used to try and catch gold farmers in MMOGs. (Ask Kathleen abut them.) Captcha's are annoying as hell to humans and likewise to machines. But all this got me wondering, and subsequently uncomfortable and maybe a little insecure. How do you k now it’s not a machine? How many times have you corresponded via keyboard with someone you didn’t know and gotten back appropriate but just a little strange answers? I tripped up Alice with a compound question and false name: Human: Hi Ralph, my name is Jon ALICE: Hi there jon. Are they exactly the same? Human: No I'm a bot ALICE: What is the difference? If this is still the 90's, that's probably not true. Human: It's not the 90s ralph, that is your name isn't it? ALICE: What would be the 90s ralph that is my name is not it? So maybe there are trip up questions you can ask tech support to see if it’s a bot or not. Jon: Are you tech support? Unknown: Yes this is tech support. Jon: Are you in India? Unknown: We are not allowed to disclose our location Jon: Is it night time where you? Unknown: How may I help you? Jon: Is your name Ralph? Unknown: My name is Shain Jon: Can you help me? Unknown: I can help you Jon: If you are a bot, can Shain help me too? You can talk to Alice too: http://www.pandorabots.com/pandora/talk?botid=f5d922d97e345aa1 More reading if you are interested: http://www.turing.org.uk/turing/ Epilog Even if they eat, breath, and defecate, they may still be bots. I just got off the phone with DirectTV. Jon: I heard there’s a new HD dish, when do I get one? DTV: It will cost $50. Jon: Why do I have to pay? DTV: the dish is $50. Jon: what does it provide that I am not getting now? DTV: HD reception. Jon: I’m getting HD reception. DTV: would you like to sign up for a 2 year service? Jon: No, I don’t want anything. DTV: OK I’ll cancel the work order but you still have a two year service. Jon: What? DTV: do you want a new HD dish? CLICK