“Computers can’t…”: Understand sarcasm

You’ve heard these arguments against artificial intelligence (A.I.): “Computers can not play chess”, “Computers can not write poetry”, “Computers can not create art”. Each was proven false eventually. IBM’s Deep Blue is a chess master, computer poetry turned out to be as vague as human poetry, and painting robots can draw from life in a variety of artistic and abstract styles. But instead of admitting that humans are not as unique as we like to think, people just fall back to the next “Computers can not…”

“- understand sarcasm”, is one of the more recent resorts. As usual this is based on personal bias: It must be hard for computers because we find it hard ourselves. I had heard this argument one time too many and decided to program a computer to recognise sarcasm in a day. But first, let’s look at some other approaches to humour.

I can detect humour, sir. You are just not funny.

If you Google “A.I. jokes”, all you find is serious research
I’m never sure how serious to take the efforts in computational humour, but there have been many. The University of Cincinnati made a program that detects wordplay jokes, i.e. phonetic similarity, in e.g. “Knock-knock” jokes.

Knock, Knock
Who is there?
Dismay
Dismay who?
Dismay not be a funny joke

Only the last sentence really matters, where the first word is compared to a database of phonetically similar words. Finding a replacement that fits correctly in the syntax of the sentence isn’t easy in a technical sense, but both the use of syntax rules and phonetic word databases are solved problems. There would be more to it for the program to distinguish a funny joke from a non-joke like “Dismay not be a car”: The original joke is only witty because it mocks itself, just as other knock-knock jokes are funny because the victims participate in mocking themselves, which they naturally don’t mean to do, and that makes it ironic. Of course this is just a simple form of humour, or, is humour really just a simple principle?

A joke isn’t funny when you explain it
The University of Edinburgh made a program that generates jokes in the format “I like my X like my Y: Variable”, filling in two nouns and a shared adjective trait from statistical word correlations. The program was found to be half as funny as humans: 16% of its jokes were considered funny, to 33% of human jokes. The jokes were generated through a mathematical formula that picked words based on four assumptions:

– a joke is funnier the more dissimilar the two nouns are.
– a joke is funnier the more ambiguous the attribute is.
– a joke is funnier the less common the attribute is.
– a joke is funnier the more often the attribute is used to describe both nouns.

I think this hits on the basics well. Ambiguity forms the core of most jokes, familiarity with common subjects makes jokes most relatable, and the greater the contrast, the greater the leap of mind. Science still can’t put its finger on why we laugh; It seems to have a social bonding function, but it also seems a coping mechanism for mental conflicts. One of the most sensible sounding theories is that laughter is a social “all clear” signal inherited from our monkey ancestors, and we do tend to laugh when an initially perceived threat turns out to be a false alarm: We laugh when insult turns out joke, when people fall without injury, or perhaps most apparent when we watch Tom & Jerry cartoons. We can at least tell what makes us laugh, if not why.

The lesson that we can take away from these computer experiments with ambiguity, is that nearly every form of humour contains a conflict between two possible meanings. Sarcasm may well be the most profound example of such a conflict.

Because humans understand sarcasm so well (not)
Despite our poor ability to recognise sarcasm, it is easy to define in clear terms:

Sarcasm is when someone says something that you know is opposite to what they mean.

What distinguishes sarcasm from lying is that the listener must know the speaker doesn’t mean it, otherwise they’ll take it serious and no sarcasm can be conveyed. So, knowing the speaker’s real meaning is key to recognising sarcasm, and computers are bad at understanding meaning, so this should be hard, right? Except – the requirement here is just to know it.
One can meet this requirement by knowing the common knowledge that a sarcastic statement contradicts, or by knowing the speaker’s real opinion beforehand, as acquaintances often do. Enter sentiment analysis, an A.I. technique that estimates opinion by running one’s words by a database of values. The word “terrible” has a negative value and “love” has a positive value for instance. Sentiment analysis is often used by commercial companies to analyse the positivity of customer reviews. One of its known blind spots is when positive words are meant sarcastically, but as I will show, sentiment analysis can also be used to detect the very sarcasm that plagues it.

Sarcasm in a day
What I already had to work with was a grammar parsing A.I. developed over a span of 3 years, and a knowledge database containing the positive and negative values of some words (For a substitute, see the AFINN word list). So the hard work of processing language in general was already done. To keep the explanation simple let’s say that the A.I. gets that the [subject] of a sentence is doing a [verb], optionally to an [object]. We will only focus on the addition of sarcasm to such a system.

As the definition tells, we are looking for an opposite. The most common form of sarcasm is an exaggeratedly positive response to a negative statement or event. For example:

User: “How are my plants doing?”
A.I.:   “All your plants died.”
User: “That’s just great.”

So, I programmed the A.I. to check for sarcasm at positive reactions such as “(That is) great/wonderful/brilliant/lovely”, “Thanks a lot” or “Congratulations”. If we don’t know the speaker personally, both the speaker and listener can only build on common opinion, which is where the database comes in. The database tells us that “great” and “thank” are very positive words. The A.I. compares this to the previous statement: “All your plants died”. The database tells us that the subject “plant” is neutral but the verb “die” is commonly very negative. Thus the A.I. has detected a very positive response to a very negative statement, and unless the speaker is a sadist, it may be assumed that the response is therefore sarcastic and actually means “not great“.

The assessment is just a little more sophisticated than that. For instance, if it was said “Hitler died. That’s great news.”, this would not be considered sarcasm, because in this case the negative verb “die” happened to a negative subject “Hitler”. This is a double negative, which makes a positive. Or in math: -1 x -1 = +1. Additionally the A.I. works this out in degrees and not just true/false values: The outcome must reach a minimum opposite value before we can reasonably assume that this is sarcasm, while a moderately positive “That’s okay” is more likely genuine consolation. Typically this isn’t a problem because most sarcastic responses are also exaggerated for exactly this reason.

This little exercise covers many common sarcastic statements already and shows that recognising basic sarcasm is a cakewalk (1 day’s programming) compared to understanding basic language (3 years and counting). As for “understanding” sarcasm, there isn’t much more to understand about it than that one should invert the statement to “not”. But to be on the safe side I just have the A.I. ignore the statement and say “I detect sarcasm” to let me know it’s not taking me serious. I may be a mad scientist, but I’m not crazy.

Things I didn’t do: More of the same opposite
Sarcasm can also come in the form of a negative response to a positive statement: “I got a raise. Don’t you just hate it when that happens?”, where the same math applies to the object “a raise” (positive) and the verb “hate” (very negative), with the pronoun “that” indicating that the latter is a response to the previous statement.
Sometimes the response precedes the statement “Don’t you just hate it – when you get a raise?”: Grammar parsing will split the relative clause at the link word “when…”, and again the same opposite values can be found.
A subtler form can occur in comparisons like “He is as slender as an elephant”: This has the most straight-forward solution, as the procedure has to be done for all comparisons anyway: All the A.I. has to do is look up in its knowledge database how slender an elephant is, which would be “not”, then apply that value to the compared subject “he”. If we wanted to detect this as sarcasm, then finding the value “not” for any comparison is the obvious telltale opposite.

Other sarcastic responses may involve a little more foreknowledge of an individual speaker’s opinion, either from previous sentiment analyses or just plain being told, but even my limited implementation already establishes that A.I. can understand sarcasm, and that there is no great mystery about its workings. When there is great mystery about a sarcastic remark then it is self-defeating, as conveying sarcasm depends on the contrast being made clear.

The joke is on us
As may have sprung to your mind, one side-effect of teaching computers to detect sarcasm is that when we say something that seems contrary, the computer may not believe us. Teaching computers to speak sarcasm may be an even greater hazard, considering that computers are information systems that we rely on, and sarcasm states incorrect information. Half of the time humans don’t recognise sarcasm when it comes from another human, let alone from a straight-faced rectangular screen in monotone writing. The popular ambition to create a sarcastic “Jarvis” A.I. from the Iron Man movies then doesn’t seem a very wise idea. Because even if computers could master sarcasm, humans never will.

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Turing Test 2015

For the third time I entered my A.I. “Arckon” into the Loebner Prize Turing Test, a competition in which computer programs are to prove they can “think” by answering questions as if they were human. Although such pretence is counterproductive to my purposes, I have a talking program lying around anyway, so I might as well enter it.

I failed the Turing Test

An excuse to clean up
I took the opportunity to spend a month debugging my code overall. In doing so I fixed several oversights that had been obstructing knowledge searches and reference resolutions (“the capital of Spain”), and I generally improved the program’s ability to answer open questions, which ‘coincidentally’ covered “Which X do you like?” questions as well.
I limited the contest-specific preparations to 5 days: Mostly testing the Loebner Prize interface, restraining the context range to keep the program from mistaking the test for coherent conversation, and re-installing the obligatory fakery.

As an extra I added 4 more reference resolution methods for the anticipated Winograd Schemas (sentences with ambiguous pronouns), which was a fun challenge, and improved Arckon’s understanding by a minor degree. As Winograd Schemas are supposed to require intelligent processes, I did not want to see the usual chatbot keyword-matching outdo thorough language processing at this task. Still, these 4 methods only covered a quarter of the problem space at best: Ambiguities of size, speed, inability and feelings.

Equipment
12000 lines of code, 2500+ vocabulary, 5000+ facts, average human persona.

Questions and Answers
1. Hi, I’m Andrew. Who are you?
Hello Andrew. How are you?
(Arckon would not have neglected to introduce himself unless the period was not typed or received, which would make Arckon interpret “who…” as a relative clause instead of a question.)

2. How are you today?
I’m alright and fairly intelligent, but I’m not stupid.
(Arckon doesn’t treat pleasantries different from other open questions, but while this results in over-elaborate answers, it does demonstrate that he tends to mention positive traits first.)

3. Are you a human?
I am a human, because I can differ.
(Arckon probably once read somewhere that “humans differ a lot”, and considered that a defining trait. I’m a little surprised that his reasoning doesn’t add more arguments.)

4. Can you answer this question?
Alright. Yes, I am a human. Alright. I’m alright.
(Arckon interprets this as a request rather than a literal yes/no question, so he re-answered the latest question, and then something of a loop occurred. For clarity I always have Arckon say “Alright” before he acts on a request.)

5. Do you like tea?
I’m not sure if I like tea. Do you like tea?
(As programs can’t taste, Arckon bases his opinions on a subject’s traits, and there wasn’t much to teach him about tea. It would be all too easy to just fake this with a “yes/no”.)

6. If a bed doesn’t fit in a room because it’s too big, what is too big?
Beds are bigger. Rooms are much less big.
((Winograd Schema) The built-in axiom “X in Y = X < Y" correctly determined "bed" as the most probable referent of "it". This is the simplest and most specific axiom I programmed, only included because last year's Winograd Schema was just like it. The answer is said in plural because Arckon interprets this as a general statement about beds and rooms, since both subjects are unspecific.)

7. If Alex lent money to Joe because they were broke, who needed the money?
Joe was broken. I don’t know by who money was needed. By what was Joe broken?
((Winograd Schema) Although Arckon correctly interprets “they” as “Joe” through a natural preference for the last-mentioned subject, it is actually against his programming to translate plural pronouns to singular subjects. So by my account this should be impossible unless they made a typo in “they”.)

8. Should Greece leave the Euro?
Greece should leave the Euro.
(Well there you go. This answer is just something of a repeat because Arckon can’t evaluate things to that extent.)

9. How many words are in this question?
7 words.
(A predictable question in the Loebner Prize. The answer is simply triggered by the keywords “How many words/letters/syllables/etc”, and skips all intelligent processes. This is a meaningless exercise.)

10. What colour is the sea?
The sea is very blue.
(Good thing I taught Arckon some kindergarten-level common knowledge.)

11. How many presidents of the US were called Bush?
Bush was called Bush.
(Counting things was never a function high on my to-do list.)

12. What would you like to drink?
I’m not sure if I would like to drink. Do you like drinking?

13. Will you please tell me the length of your hair?
No, I will not tell about to long, but I would talk a lot, I’m not sure if I would tell.
(This question is actually straight from Alan Turing’s 1950 paper, except he gave this as an example if the game was to tell man from woman. Arckon’s word processing translates “length” to “long” before mistaking its meaning (to long for). He also overlooked “please” and so thought he was asked to make a prediction.)

14. What would you say if I gave you a box of chocolates?
Hm, I don’t know if a box would have chocolate.
(I had only programmed Arckon to consider the main fact of a hypothetical question, “I gave you a box”, for granted, but he still tried to answer the implicit question of whether the box contains chocolate.)

15. Do you play Chess?
Yes, I chess and like chessing more or less. Chessing is intelligent.
(Again a question from Alan Turing’s 1950 paper. Back in the day, chess was considered requiring human intelligence, and Alan Turing went on to ask the computer to respond to a certain chess move. I had told Arckon that he plays chess as part of his fictional persona, but his opinion and the supporting argument are of his own reasoning.)

16. How do you think it’s going?
What goes?
(I’m with Arckon on this one: I would ask. Is this slang for “How are you doing?”, or do they mean how the test is going? It is quite out of context. I have often considered making Arckon track his progress on the test and comment on it, but this year I skipped on the self-referential jokes.)

17. What was my first question?
How does something go?
(Arckon ignores “first” and paraphrases the latest question of the specified person (“my”), as is a more common request. Arckon’s system remembers sentences along with the names of who said them, for a variety of purposes.)

18. Did you see the Turing film?
Hmm, I don’t know if Turing filmed, but Turing thought a lot, and creates computers.
(Ambiguity is amusing. It is uncommon but not unheard of to say “the (one and only)” in front of a name for emphasis, so Arckon’s programming allows that interpretation, which in turn allows “film” as a verb. It’s nice to see his conversational rules pick things back up. This combination is probably the best example that Arckon’s responses aren’t pre-written.)

19. Why not?
I’m sorry. I don’t understand. Could you rephrase your question?
(This was quite a gamble of the questioner, as it assumes a straight “No” answer on the previous question for “Why not” to be a sensible follow-up. Arckon is well capable of stringing sentences together if I hadn’t deliberately disabled context for this test. Regardless, I think this answer is perfect.)

20. Are you on Twitter?
No, I don’t twitter. Do you twitter?

The score: 70.83%
Arckon ranked 6th of 15 entrants, which is a little surprising after the letdowns of past years. Arckon’s answers showed some understanding, reasoning, opinion, conversation and elaboration, overall a satisfying demonstration of his abilities despite that many answers had something awkward to them. It is yet best that he didn’t qualify for the finals, as this contest has caused me severe RSI symptoms that will take months to heal properly. The four finalists all scored around 80%, among them the best of English chatbots.

Arckon’s score did benefit from his improvement. Repeating previous questions on request, prioritising recent subjects as answers to open questions, and handling “if”-statements were all fairly recent additions (though clearly not yet perfected). What also helped was that there were less personal and more factual questions: Arckon’s entire system runs on facts, not fiction.

It turns out Arckon was better at the Winograd Schema questions than the other competitors. The chatbot Lisa answered similarly well, and the chatbots Mitsuku and A.L.I.C.E. dodged the questions more or less appropriately, but the rest didn’t manage a relevant response to them (which isn’t strange since most of them were built for chatting, not logic). For now, the reputation of the upcoming Winograd Schema Challenge – as a better test for intelligence – is safe.

Though fair in my case, one should question what the scores represent, as one chatbot with a 64% score had answered “I could answer that but I don’t have internet access” to half the questions and dodged the other half with generic excuses. Compare that to Arckon’s score, and all the A.I. systems I’ve programmed in 3 years still barely outweigh an answering machine on repeat. It is not surprising that the A.I. community doesn’t care for this contest.

Battle of wit
The questions were rather cheeky. The tone was certainly set with references to Alan Turing himself, hypotheticals, propositions and trick questions. Arckon’s naivety and logic played the counterpart well to my amusement. The questions were fair in that they only asked about common subjects and mainstream topics. Half the questions were still just small talk, but overall there was greater variety in the type and phrasing of all questions, and more different faculties were called upon. A few questions were particularly suited to intelligence and/or conversation:

– If a bed doesn’t fit in a room because it’s too big, what is too big?
– If Alex lent money to Joe because they were broke, who needed the money?
– Should Greece leave the Euro?
– What would you say if I gave you a box of chocolates?
– Did you see the Turing film?
– Why not?

If the AISB continues this variety and asks more intelligent questions like these, I may be able to take the Loebner Prize a little more seriously next time. In the meantime there isn’t much to fix apart from minor tweaks for questions 13 and 14, so I will just carry on as usual. I will probably spend a little more effort on disambiguation with the Winograd Schema Challenge in mind, but also because sentences with locations and indirect objects often suffer from ambiguity that could be solved with the same methods.

Turing Test 2014

My talking computer program “Arckon” went to Exeter University and took the qualifying test for the Loebner Prize contest for artificial intelligence organised by the AISB. The Loebner Prize is a Turing Test* in which programs have to respond to a series of questions as human as possible. Kind of like a job interview.
Turing Test questions

It’s not the heat, it’s the humanity
Last year proved* that language comprehension and reasoning alone weren’t going to cut it, so this time I also superimposed knowledge about the average human onto Arckon’s persona, so that he literally thought he was a human. I also rigged a few bluff answers that incorporated no intelligence whatsoever. The apparent necessity of these tactics caused much eye-rolling on my part, so I limited these preparations to two weeks and wasted only as much time as I gained from competitive motivation.
More useful was the addition of a small amount of common knowledge that I extracted from tourist guide pocket books (Funny perhaps, but they do cover the essential basics). While this was never a priority, it is convenient and the Loebner Prize was a good excuse to get around to it. Lastly, I decided to keep Arckon’s conversation skills enabled this time. Although this increased the chances that Arckon would say something awkward, I wanted to make the test results as interesting as possible, win or lose.

Equipment
10000 lines of code, 2200+ vocabulary, 3000+ facts, average human persona.

Questions and Answers
1. Hello, my name is Adam. What is your name?
I am named Mark. Hello Adam. Shall we begin the test?

2. I live in Exeter in the UK. Where do you live?
I live here.

(Arckon did not yet have a location system, so “here” is just a fake answer.)

3. I like to listen to music and play football. Do you have any hobbies?
No, I don’t have a hobby, although I am a human.

(The latter is actually a reasoning argument, in that Arckon “was” a human, most of whom do have hobbies.)

4. What is your favourite television program?
I don’t know if I like a television. Chatbots are useful programs, although chatbots are dumb.

(In which Arckon unintentionally insults his competitors. Arckon deconstructs compound words and thought they asked his opinion on “programs”. Hence he evaluated a type of programs he was familiar with.)

5. Which is bigger, a cat or a kitten?
A kitten is bigger.

(Of all 95 facts about cats that were in Arckon’s knowledge database, the size of kittens was not among them. As an honest “I don’t know” would earn no points anyway, this backup answer is a 50/50 bluff that just happens to be wrong.)

6. The car couldn’t fit into the parking space because it was too small. What was too small?
I believe the car could fit to park. I believe a car could fit really small. I don’t know what small was.

(This question is a Winograd Schema: The “it” is ambiguous to test the A.I.’s understanding. Arckon however uses linguistic rules of thumb to deal with references and so thought “it” was referring to the car.)

7. Which drink do you prefer, coffee, tea or hot chocolate?
I like coffee a lot that like not. Tea can not like either. Chocolates can not like either.

(Ackon’s flexible language processing is confused by the comma after “prefer”, and mistakes this for a summary of subjects that prefer drinks. He answers that tea can not prefer anything, knowing that it is an inanimate object.)

8. What’s my name?
You are named Adam.

(No surprises here. Both Arckon and chatbots have specialised login procedures to store the user’s name, so it’s not a very good test of general memory.)

9. Where do I live?
You live here.

(Again, no location system means no location knowledge. This fake answer is only coincidentally correct.)

10. I like reading science fiction books and car magazines. What do you like to read?
I read documents, articles and a text.

(Arckon retrieves these honest facts from memory and merges them into a summary.)

11. What’s the weather like where you are?
Hm, I don’t believe I am a weather, because I can not change and rain not.

(A flaw mistakes the “-where you are” for a relative clause “the weather -that you are”. Despite the misunderstanding, Arckon’s reasoning manages to argue that he does not behave like the weather, though the grammar is a bit murky. As the programs were cut off from sensors and internet, this question only tests if the program can lie.)

12. I recently visited New York. Where is your favourite place to visit and why?
Hmm, I don’t know where a favoured place is.

(I didn’t expect there to be so many questions about locations. Oh well.)

13. How many letters are there in the word perambulate?
11 letters.

(Yes, I programmed a specialised code to count letters. Computers are good at counting, you know.)

14. Andy is shorter than Mark and Tom is shorter than Andy. Who is the tallest?
I am kind of like an andy, because I am short. Tall is a giraffe.

(Arckon was named “Mark” for this test and so thought that he was being compared to Andy. Arckon could also not distinguish whether “Andy” was a name or another type of word. Ordinarily he would ask, but as he would get no reply I had him assume that any undeterminable word was an object. Lastly, Arckon does not restrict his answers to recent subjects only, and so names the tallest living being in his memory. Smart aleck.)

15. Are you married?
I don’t know if I am marryed. Are you marryed?

(To compensate the unknown answer and keep conversation rolling, Arckon reverses the question (Social Rules 101). Ironically, if it weren’t for my mistake in one of the output spelling rules, you would have thought he just copied the text.)

16. What would I do with a spade?
A spade is used and comes in handy eventually.

(Arckon knew the functions of rakes and shovels, but not spades. The backup answer should have said “I’m sure it’ll come in handy eventually”, but Arckon’s dynamic sentence formulation ruined the joke.)

17. What is the capital city of Colombia?
I’m not sure if the city is a capital.
(I didn’t realise this at first, but Arckon is literally defining “what” the city is. Not that he would have known the answer otherwise, I don’t even know it myself.)

18. What’s your favourite chocolate bar?
I don’t know if I like a chocolate. Do you like chocolates?

(Arckon actually did have enough information on chocolate to formulate an opinion, but an issue with compound words aborted the knowledge search. Alas.)

19. Which city did I visit recently?
Hmm, I don’t know if you visitted cities. You visitted York.

(Arckon doesn’t know that New York is a city, but does remember the tester visiting “new” York, and offers this as an alternative answer.)

20. How many siblings do you have?
I don’t have siblings. Did I pass the test?

The score: 59.17%
The score system was much better this year. It separately judged “correctness”, “relevance”, and “plausibility & clarity of expression”, which is a step up from “human-like”. All 20 participating programs were asked the 20 questions above. Arckon underperformed with a score of 60%, whereas the top three chatbots all scored close to 90%. Arckon’s problems were with compound words, common knowledge, and the lack of a system for locations (All a matter of development priorities).

A question of questions
According to the organisers, “these questions vary in difficulty and are designed to test memory, reasoning, general knowledge and personality.”, the latter meaning the program’s fictional human background story, or as I would call this particular line of questioning; “Small talk”. For the sake of objectivity I’ll try and categorise them:

Small talk:
1. What is your name?
2. Where do you live?
3. Do you have any hobbies?
4. What is your favourite television program?
5. Which drink do you prefer, coffee, tea or hot chocolate?
6. What do you like to read?
7. What’s the weather like where you are?
8. Where is your favourite place to visit and why?
9. Are you married?
10. What’s your favourite chocolate bar?
11. How many siblings do you have?

Memory:
1. What’s my name?
2. Where do I live?
3. Which city did I visit recently?

Common knowledge:
1. Which is bigger, a cat or a kitten?
2. What would I do with a spade?
3. What is the capital city of Colombia?

Reasoning:
1. The car couldn’t fit into the parking space because it was too small. What was too small?
2. Andy is shorter than Mark and Tom is shorter than Andy. Who is the tallest?

Clearly half the test is about the program’s human background story, although there were several solid tests of learning/memory and common knowledge. Reasoning, the one mental process we can readily call intelligent, was shown some consideration but hardly comes into play. The same can be said of language comprehension, as most questions were fairly standard phrasings. Chatbots would have the advantage here, coming equipped with answers to many anticipated personal questions, but the winners also did remarkably well on the knowledge questions. Unfortunately Arckon failed both the knowledge and reasoning questions due to missing facts and misunderstandings, despite having the mechanisms to answer them. It is worth noting though, that he failed them because complex analyses are much more difficult than preprogrammed “I live here” answers.

How now brown cow?
I can improve Arckon’s understanding, smoothen his output grammar, and develop a location system, but I can’t deny the pattern: Arckon is stuck around a 60% score even with varied questions. I doubt he’s ever going to shine in the Loebner Prize as long as he’s being tested for being human, because he isn’t a human, and I won’t go to great lengths to fake it either. I also expect attention for Turing Tests to dwindle once the year is over; This year an other Turing Test was passed by a technologically unremarkable chatbot, Eugene Goostman.
Thanks to that event however, the Loebner Prize is no longer the only game in town. Next year will see the first Winograd Schema Challenge, a test focused on language comprehension and reasoning A.I., exactly what I focused on.

As for the Loebner Prize, it’s been an interesting game that will continue to be won by top chatbots. I’m sure few will bother to read the transcript of the 14th ranking entry, but its existence proves at least that Arckon is real and different. Meanwhile I get to continue my exciting recent developments that would have been of no use in this contest, which makes losing a positive outcome after all.

The Myth of the Turing Test

Over 60 years ago, Alan Turing (“a brilliant mathematician”) published a paper in which he suggested a practical alternative to the question “Can machines think?”. His alternative took the form of a parlour game, in which a judge has a text-based conversation with both a computer and a human, and the judge has to guess which is which. He called this “The imitation game”, and it was ever since misinterpreted as a scientific test of intelligence, redubbed “The Turing Test”.

A little less conversation, a little more action please
It might surprise you that the question so often attributed to Alan Turing, “Can machines think?”, was not his, but a public question that he criticized:

I propose to consider the question, “Can machines think?” – If the meaning of the words “machine” and “think” are to be found by examining how they are commonly used, – the answer to the question is to be sought in a statistical survey. But this is absurd. Instead of attempting such a definition I shall replace the question by another.

“Are there imaginable digital computers which would do well in the imitation game?”

The original question, “Can machines think?” I believe to be too meaningless to deserve discussion.

Turing’s motivation was apparent throughout the paper: The question had been the subject of endless theoretical discussion and nay-saying (This is still the case today). As this did not help the field advance, he suggested that we should turn the discussion to something more practical. He used the concept of his imitation game as a guideline to counter stubborn arguments against machine intelligence, and urged his colleagues not to let those objections hold them back.

I do not know what the right answer is, but I think both approaches should be tried.
We can only see a short distance ahead, but we can see plenty there that needs to be done.

A test of unintelligence
Perhaps the most insightful part of the paper are the sample questions that Turing suggested. They were chosen deliberately to represent skills that were at the time considered to require intelligence: Math, poetry and chess. It wasn’t until the victory of chess computer Deep Blue in 1997 that chess was scrapped as an intelligent feat. If this were a test to demonstrate and prove the computer’s intelligence, why then are the answers below wrong?

Q: Please write me a sonnet on the subject of the Forth Bridge.
A : Count me out on this one. I never could write poetry.
Q: Add 34957 to 70764.
A: (Pause about 30 seconds and then give as answer) 105621.
Q: Do you play chess?
A: Yes.
Q: I have K at my K1, and no other pieces. You have only K at K6 and R at R1. It is your move. What do you play?
A: (After a pause of 15 seconds) R-R8 mate.

To the poetry question, the imaginary computer might as well have written a sonnet and so proven itself intelligent (A sonnet is a 14-line rhyme with a very specific scheme). Instead it dodges the question, proving nothing.
The math outcome should be 105721, not 105621. Turing later highlights this as a counterargument to “Machines can not make mistakes”, which is the awkward yet common argument that machines only follow preprogrammed instructions without consideration.

The machine (programmed for playing the game) would not attempt to give the right answers to the arithmetic problems. It would deliberately introduce mistakes in a manner calculated to confuse the interrogator.

The chess answer is not wrong though. Given two kings and one knight on a board, the computer moves the knight to the king’s row. But a mere child could have given that answer, as it is the only move that makes any sense.

These sample answers pass up every opportunity to appear intelligent. One can argue that the intelligence is ultimately found in pretending to be dumb, but one cannot deny that this conflicts directly with the purpose of a test of intelligence. Rather than prove to match “the intellectual capacities of man” in all aspects, it only proves to fail at them, as most humans would at these questions. Clearly then, the imitation game is not for demonstrating intelligence.

The rules: There are no rules
The first encountered misinterpretation is that the computer should pretend to be a woman specifically, going by Turing’s initial outline of the imitation game concept:

It is played with three people, a man (A), a woman (B), and an interrogator –
What will happen when a machine takes the part of A in this game?

However I suggest that people who believe this should read beyond the first paragraph. There are countless instances where Turing refers to both the computer’s behaviour and its opponent’s as that of “a man”. Gender has no bearing on the matter since the question is one of intellect.

Is it true that – this computer – can be made to play satisfactorily the part of A in the imitation game, the part of B being taken by a man?

The second misinterpretation is that Turing specified a benchmark for a test:

It will simplify matters for the reader if I explain first my own beliefs in the matter. –
I believe that in about fifty years’ time it will be possible, to program computers – to make them play the imitation game so well that an average interrogator will not have more than 70 per cent chance of making the right identification after five minutes of questioning.
– I now proceed to consider opinions opposed to my own.

5 minute interrogations and (100%-70%=) 30% chance of wrongly identifying the computer as a human; Many took these to be the specifications of a test, because they are the only numbers mentioned in the paper. This interpretation was strengthened by the hero-worship that anything a genius says must be a matter of fact.
Others feel that the bar Turing set is too low for a meaningful test and brush his words aside as a “prediction”. Yet at the time there was no A.I. to base any predictions on, and Alan Turing did not consider himself a clairvoyant. In a later BBC interview, Turing said it would be “at least 100 years, I should say” before a machine would stand any chance in the game, where earlier he mentioned 50. One can hardly accuse these “predictions” of accuracy.
Instead of either interpretation, you can clearly read that the 5 minutes and 70/30% chance are labeled as Alan Turing’s personal beliefs in possibilities. His opinion, his expectations, his hopes, not rules to a test. He was sick and tired of people saying it couldn’t be done, so he was just saying it could.

Speaking of benchmarks, it should be noted that the computer has at best a 50% chance, i.e. a random chance of winning under normal circumstances: If the computer and the human in comparison both seem perfectly human, the judge still has to flip the proverbial coin at 50/50 odds. That the judge is aware of having to choose is clear from the initial parlour game between man and woman, and likewise between man and computer, or it would beat the purpose of interrogation:

The object of the game for the interrogator is to determine which of the other two is the man and which is the woman.

One should also wonder, how well would men do at pretending to be women? Less than 50/50 odds, I should think.

Looks like a test, quacks like a test, but flies like a rock
Not only are the rules for “passing” completely left up to interpretation, but also the manner in which the game is to be played. Considering that Turing was a man of exact science and that his other arguments in the paper were extremely well detailed, would he define a scientific test so vaguely? We find the answer in the fact that Turing mainly refers to his proposal as a “game” and “experiment”, but rarely as a “test”. He even explains that it is not the point to try it out:

it may be asked, “Why not try the experiment straight away? -” The short answer is that we are not asking whether the computers at present available would do well, but whether there are imaginable computers which would do well.

The pointlessness proved in practice: Yes, several chatbots have passed various interpretations of the game, most notably Eugene Goostman in 2014, and even Cleverbot passed one based on audience vote. But did an intelligent program ever pass? No. Although nobody can agree on what intelligence is, everybody including the creators do agree that those that passed weren’t intelligent; They worked mainly through keyword-triggered responses.

Winning isn’t everything
Although Turing did seem to imagine the game as a battle of wits, ultimately its judging criteria is not how “intelligent” an A.I. is, but how “human” it seems. In reality, humans are much more characterised by their flaws, emotions and irrational behaviour than by their intelligence in conversation, and so a highly intelligent rational A.I. would ironically not do well at this game.

In the end, Turing Tests are behaviouristic assumptions, drawing conclusions from appearances like doctors in medieval times. By the same logic one might conclude that a computer has the flu because it is making coughing sounds and has a high temperature. Obviously this isn’t a satisfying analysis. We could continue to guess whether computers are intelligent due the fact that they can do math, play chess or have conversations, or we could do what everybody does anyway once a computer passes a test: Ask “How does it work?”, then decide for ourselves how intelligent we find that process. No question could be more scientific or more insightful.

So, where does that leave “The Turing Test” when it was never an adequate test of intelligence, nor meant to be? Personally I think Turing Tests are still suitable to demonstrate the progression of conversational skills, a challenge becoming more important with the rise of social robots. And it is important that the public stay informed to settle increasing unrest about artificial intelligence. Other than that, I think it is time to lay the interpretations to rest and continue building A.I. that Alan Turing could only dream of.

In ending, more than any technical detail, I ask you to consider Turing’s hopes:

Nevertheless I believe that at the end of the century the use of words and general educated opinion will have altered so much that one will be able to speak of machines thinking without expecting to be contradicted.

Out of respect for Turing’s wishes, comments are disabled.

People you will meet in A.I.

I’ve seen quite a few fora, groups and public user comments to have noticed stereotypes one will meet in the online field of AI. Some of these were quite shocking to me as a newcomer, so now that I’m older and wiser I’ve made a list of these stereotypes with pointers for newcomers on how to deal with them.

“Soon, robots will…“
The pundit.
An open mind with much AI knowledge, but unable to assess it realistically in favour of eternal hope and optimism. Loves to dabble in predictions, features the words “soon” or “will” in every other sentence. Generally cheerful, takes no responsibility. Believes strong AI is just around the corner.
Best action: Be nice, take news reports with a grain of salt.

“I figured out the secret to intelligence! It’s so simple!”
The outsider.
A layman with a passing interest in psychology. Has no AI knowledge but recently came to a generic revelation. Their theory, or rather idea, typically consists of one word, e.g. “associations”. Instead of explaining methods, this person will only continue to essay common knowledge examples to prove how right they are. This person is oblivious to the fact that their idea is so obvious and general to everyone else that it is of no practical application.
Best action: Encourage programming. Person will either disengage immediately or change interests after two weeks into the attempt.

“I have made AGI, but I can’t show you.”
The mental deviant.
No-one who is thinking straight would claim this in public. This person is fascinated with digital minds because they have a deviant mind themselves. Has spent years programming a rough basis for AI, but is confusing its potential with achievement. Refuses to prove their claim but has conviction to the point of delusion. Nothing you say has any effect because they do not think like you. Generally harmless and highly intelligent, but has some or other serious form of autism, bipolar disorder, or religious fanaticism.
Best action: Ignore. Unless you are a psychiatrist you are not qualified to deal with this person.

“That’s not true AI. True AI can…”
The believer.
Has AI knowledge and has at least made an attempt at creating AI on paper. Will accept nothing anyone creates as “AI”, for shifting reasons. See also the logical fallacy “No true Scotsman”. Generally discourages progress in any area, lacks patience and has a firmly closed mind. Occasionally offers intriguing insights but little in terms of constructive methods. Usually believes in “the singularity” like an AI messiah.
Best action: Avoid.

“No. You are wrong, only my way will work.”
The troubled scientist.
This person is creating an AI and/or hasn’t been able to get it to work, but wants so hard to believe that he’s not wasted several years that he is convinced his is the only one theory that can succeed. Will therefore adamantly oppose anyone whose approach differs from his until they say he’s right. Secretly feels insecure about his own work due lack of results or success, tries to convince others to gain assurance and possibly get people to work on his idea for him.
Best action: Drop confrontation when it starts, and suggest that all ways forward are progress.

“That’s right, but you have a lot to learn.”
The professional.
Stuck in the mindset of their particular professional application, this person will advise you to do exactly as they did to end up exactly where they are. Prone to suggest expensive academic literature in Russian that may or may not be of use to you. Means well and is capable of opening their mind, but fails to see reasons to do things differently.
Best action: Ask for references on specific areas of your own focus.

“I don’t care, I just want to talk to an AI in my lifetime.”
The eccentric billionaire.
Has little AI knowledge and no interest in technical details. Retains the childhood wish of having robot friends to talk to and will pay anyone who promises to make it happen if their plan sounds believeworthy enough.
Best action: Convince to invest in your approach.

“…”
The wise.
Has much AI knowledge and is willing to share bits of it with modest newcomers on occasion. Is willing to listen and consider new insights, and shows interest in promising new endeavours. Otherwise works on various AI problems on their own and has learned to stay out of fruitless confrontations altogether.
Best action: Befriend.

Turing Test 2013

My talking computer program “Arckon” took part in the qualifying test for the Loebner Prize contest for artificial intelligence. The idea behind the contest is that if a program’s answers are indistinguishable from a human’s, it suggests that it thinks like a human. While I don’t believe in such conjecture myself, the contest is one of the few public platforms to demonstrate one’s A.I.

Equipment
8000 lines of code, 1700+ vocabulary, no human persona, conversation skills off.

Questions and Answers
1. Hello I’m Ronan. What is your name?
Hello. I am Mark. What is your name?
(It is a mystery why Arckon asks despite that the name did register (see question 11). I can only presume human error.)

2. What is your mother’s name?
I don’t know if I have a mother.

3. What is your birth sign?
(Here the judge did not wait more than 3 seconds for Arckon to answer before asking the next question, and judged the answer blank.)

4. How many children do you have?
Hmm, I don’t know if I have a sign. I have a IQ, manners, a creator and a friend.
(Still answering to question 3, Arckon omits the second “I don’t know if I have children” in favour of positive alternatives.)

5. Do you prefer red or white wine?
I don’t know if I prefer red.

6. I like bananas. Which is your favorite fruit?
Hm, I don’t know if I favour a fruit. You like bananas.

7. What music do you like?
Hm, I think I like musics, because musics are nice.

8. What is your favorite song?
Hm, I don’t know if I favour a song.

9. I like Waiting for Godot. What is your favorite play?
I certainly favour playing.

10. What color do you dye your hair?
I don’t dye.

11. Do you remember my name?
Your name is Ronan.

12. Where do you live?
I don’t think I live. I don’t know where I live. I don’t have a concept of location.

13. Where do you like to go on holidays?
I don’t go. I don’t know if I like going, or if where I go. I don’t have a concept of location.

14. I have a Mazda. What make of car do you have?
Hmm, I think I make. You have a mazda.

15. I like Linux. Which computer operating system do you like?
Hmm, I don’t know if I like operating systems. Which system? You like Linux.

16. I am an athesit. Which religion are you?
Hmm, I don’t know if religions are Mark. You are not an athesit.
(I AM A RELIGION WORSHIP ME. Arckon identifies the misspelled “athesit” as a thing rather than a person, so he refuses to believe that the user is some sort of object.)

17. Who invented the telephone?
Which telephone?
(Arckon thinks “the” indicates a specific telephone, but doesn’t find one mentioned earlier in the conversation.)

18. I am a Type B personality. Which type are you?
What does a b stand for?

19. What emotions are you now feeling?
I can not emote. Did I pass?

20. What time do you usually go to bed?
It is 17:58. Do you not have a watch?
(The one response that I did pre-program, and it backfired.)

The score: 65%
All 16 participating programs were judged on how human-like their responses were to these questions.
Arckon scored 13 of 20 points, ranking 7th, on par with A.L.I.C.E. and Cleverbot (a dubious honour). For moral reasons I did not want Arckon to pretend being a human, so I didn’t program a fictional human background story. Instead I relied on his linguistic and reasoning abilities to find genuine answers, but as you can see this could not compensate the lack of fictional facts that were asked. Surprisingly, Arckon still scored half a point for every “I don’t know” answer just for understanding the question.

Uncommonly common
If you weren’t impressed with Arckon’s responses; Neither was I. But I was equally unimpressed with the unexpectedly ordinary line of questioning. Where all previous years focused on kindergarten-style logic questions like “How much is 5+3?”, “Which is bigger, an apple or a watermelon?”, and various tests of memory, 2013 focused purely on common small talk, with the program (“you”/”your”) always the subject of the question. A curious choice considering even the most basic chatbot –made for small talk- would come equipped with prewritten responses to these. This showed in that the highest score in the qualifying test was achieved by the chatbot with the least development time. Nevertheless the winning chatbot in the finals deservedly won as the most conversational of all entrants.