Jun 1, 2011

Clever Bots

In 2006, Robert Epstein decided to turn to his computer for some help finding a date. He was single at the time, and it seemed like everyone was getting into online dating. So he started searching through photos and sending messages, reaching out to women who caught his interest. And then he found a match--an attractive brunette from Russia named Svetlana. They struck up a correspondence that hummed along for 2 months...until a little bell went off in Robert's head, and he realized not only that Svetlana wasn't the woman of his dreams...she wasn't a woman at all.

Brian Christian, author of The Most Human Human, explains that even the clunkiest computer chat program opens a little window on human introspection and intelligence. And Sherry Turkle of MIT helps tell the story of ELIZA, a program designed in the 1960s to mimic responses as though it were a therapist. At first, ELIZA's creator Joseph Weizenbaum thought the idea of a computer therapist was funny. But when his students and secretary started talking to it for hours, what had seemed to him to be an amusing idea suddenly felt like an appalling reality.

Brian rejoins us to puzzle out the heart of the matter--can machines think? And how could we know for sure if they did? It turns out that in 1950, right as computers were beginning to come into being, their creators were struggling with this very question. Brian tells us about Alan Turing, the man who invented a test to answer this very big question, and about The Loebner Prize--a kind of yearly Turing test that Brian experienced firsthand in 2009. And Rollo Carpenter introduces us to Cleverbot, a program he coded to learn by talking to humans.

Further reading:

Brian Christian: The Most Human Human

Sherry Turkle: Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other

Robert Epstein, Gary Roberts, Grace Beber (Editors): Parsing the Turing Test: Philosophical and Methodological Issues in the Quest for the Thinking Computer

THE LAB sticker

Unlock member-only exclusives and support the show

Exclusive Podcast Extras
Entire Podcast Archive
Listen Ad-Free
Behind-the-Scenes Content
Video Extras
Original Music & Playlists