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Judges will also rank all the contestants—this is used in part as a tiebreaking measure.The computer program receiving the most votes and highest ranking from the judges (regardless of whether it passes the Turing Test by fooling 30 percent of them) is awarded the title of the Most Human Computer.One of the first winners, in 1994, was the journalist and science-fiction writer Charles Platt. By “being moody, irritable, and obnoxious,” as he explained in Wired magazine—which strikes me as not only hilarious and bleak, but, in some deeper sense, a call to arms: how, in fact, do we be the most human we can be—not only under the constraints of the test, but in life?Since 1991, the Turing Test has been administered at the so-called Loebner Prize competition, an event sponsored by a colorful figure: the former baron of plastic roll-up portable disco dance floors, Hugh Loebner.When asked his motives for orchestrating this annual Turing Test, Loebner cites laziness, of all things: his utopian future, apparently, is one in which unemployment rates are nearly 100 percent and virtually all of human endeavor and industry is outsourced to intelligent machines.To learn how to become a confederate, I sought out Loebner himself, who put me in touch with contest organizers, to whom I explained that I’m a nonfiction writer of science and philosophy, fascinated by the Most Human Human award. I was briefed on the logistics of the competition, but not much else.It is this title that the research teams are all gunning for, the one with the cash prize (usually ,000), the one with which most everyone involved in the contest is principally concerned.
The average off-the-street confederate’s instincts—or judge’s, for that matter—aren’t likely to be so good.When I read the news, I realized instantly that the 2009 test in Brighton could be the decisive one.I’d never attended the event, but I felt I had to go—and not just as a spectator, but as part of the human defense.This is a strange and deeply interesting point, amply proved by the perennial demand in our society for dating coaches and public-speaking classes.The transcripts from the 2008 contest show the humans to be such wet blankets that the judges become downright apologetic for failing to provoke better conversation: “I feel sorry for the humans behind the screen, I reckon they must be getting a bit bored talking about the weather,” one writes; another offers, meekly, “Sorry for being so banal.” Meanwhile a computer appears to be charming the pants off one judge, who in no time at all is gushing LOLs and smiley-face emoticons. Thus, my intention from the start was to thoroughly disobey the advice to just show up and be myself—I would spend months preparing to give it everything I had.