October 26, 2021

I, Science

The science magazine of Imperial College

Themes of the last fortnight have included passing the Turing test and Space science ...


Themes of the last fortnight have included passing the Turing test and Space. Find the top science web vids here too.

Lovable youth wins Turing acclaim

The Turing test has been passed according to Prof Kevin Warwick from Reading University AKA ‘Captain Cyborg’. The test happened at a Royal Society event where 30 judges held five minute one-to-one conversations with several participants over a computer terminal. Some participants were humans and some were computers. The computer programme Eugene Goostman convinced 10 of the 30 judges that it was a human – a 13-year-old Ukrainian boy. This is above the 30% success rate needed to pass the Turing test. So are we hailing a new dawn in artificial intelligence?

The real strength of this test was that the questions were unrestricted. In previous tests with chatbots the questions were prescribed, but Nathan Mattise in Wired points out that the 30 judges at the Royal Society could ask Eugene anything, which conforms with the Turing test requirements.

There are also some weaknesses. A five minute chat isn’t long and disguising the programme as a 13-year-old Ukrainian is likely to shorten further the amount of actual conversation that can be had in the time as perceived age and cultural differences are likely to stifle the speed at which the conversation gets underway. Chris Williams in the Register points out that imitating a young teenager is a good way to disguise the programme’s crude intelligence. Likewise, Gary Marcus in the New Yorker suggested that Eugene frequently changes the direction of the conversation, as soon as it gets out of its depth. Maybe the child Turing test is passed while adult test should still be in Captain Cyborg’s sights.

Space update

Astronomy is rarely dull but the last fortnight has been very busy. A new exoplanet has been discovered that has been dubbed the ‘Mega Earth’. It’s 17 times larger than our Earth, which isn’t unusual given that planets like Jupiter could contain over 1300 Earths. The special property of the new planet, called Kepler-10c, is that it’s rocky. It’s the largest rocky planet known and so has more potential to harbour life. The finding was discussed at the meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Boston last week.

In other news the BICEP2 gravitational wave results don’t look as solid as they previously did, which recasts doubt over the inflationary theory of the origin of the universe, and will be a disappointment to multiverse theorists.

As the fifth annual Astronomy Festival happens on the National Mall in Washington this week, the future of NASA funding has also been under scrutiny. Our reporter Mark Atwill wrote an excellent piece on NASA chief scientist Ellen Stofan’s plans for putting people on Mars, and a nice picture rich feature from Ethan Siegel in Medium describes how much we know about our universe and where further space funds might be invested. Space, as always, a topic holding infinite interest.

Top web vids

New vid on the Science Channel is a profile of the ‘Russian Kangaroo’, a vehicle that uses fan thrusters to move across land or water. For a longer watch, check out the previously mentioned Ellen Stofan talk at the Royal Institution on NASA’s investment into the Path to Mars. Finally, the most popular science vid from the last fortnight with over three million hits is Can You Trust Your Ears? from ASAP science. The never-ending pitch ascendancy of the last section is a bit unnerving but the science backing it up is fascinating.