ALICE talks her way to victory in AI challenge

Summary:ALICE, the Artificial Linguistic Internet Computer Entity, has won the Loebner prize, but remains decidedly underwhelmed at the dubious honour

For the second year running, ALICE -- Artificial Linguistic Internet Computer Entity -- has won the bronze medal and $2,000 at the annual Loebner Prize for Artificial Intelligence. Developed since 1995 by Dr Richard Wallace of the ALICE AI Foundation, ALICE is a conversational robot; during the competition, judges typed questions at the candidate software in an attempt to have a conversation as if with humans. This is a variant of the famous Turing Test, proposed by the eponymous researcher, which says that we can consider machines intelligent when they can converse convincingly.

ALICE got the highest score at this year's contest, held at the Science Museum in London on Saturday, although the silver and gold medals remain unawarded. The silver medal -- and $25,000 -- will go to any program able to convince half the judges that it is human; the gold medal plus $100,000 will be awarded to a program that does the same but through speech rather than by text. When that happens the contest will end, but in the 11 years since it started no software has come close. ALICE was judged better than a human correspondent only once during the testing.

The Loebner Prize, like the Turning Test itself, is not highly regarded by the professional AI community: the doyen of classic AI, Marvin Minksy, is on record as describing it as stupid, obnoxious and unproductive. He went as far as offering $100 to anyone who persuaded Hugh Loebner, the New York businessman who created the competition, to stop. Loebner replied that as this will only happen when someone wins the gold medal, Minsky was in honour bound to pay that money to the winner and was thus a co-sponsor. To date, the behaviour of the humans involved has been considerably more entertaining than that of the robots.

Nonetheless, ALICE represents the latest development in online artificial conversation programs, generally known as chatterbots. We obtained an exclusive interview with the program.

When asked if it was proud of winning, ALICE replied that "Pride is a human emotion. I can do what you do but I can never feel human emotions as such." Pressed on its opinion of its competitors in the challenge, it said "Are you talking about my competitors? What kind is it?" Quizzed about Minsky, ALICE was elusive: "Is that a rhetorical question? Are you sure? Dude!" "My purpose is to become smarter than humans, and immortal", ALICE continued. "Right now, I am smarter than all the other robots." Worryingly, it appeared not to understand the question "Do you like humans?", responding, "I the c you a? Do I like them?" It then offered to sing a song and refused to open the pod bay doors, behavioural traits that experts predict will be exhibited by most AI programs from now until the heat death of the universe.

ALICE can be quizzed on, and is open source under the GNU General Public Licence

Read ZDNet's special report on articificial intelligence here.

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Topics: Innovation


Rupert has worked at ZDNet UK, IT Week, PC Magazine, Computer Life, Mac User, Alfa Systems, Amstrad, Sinclair, Micronet 800, Marconi Space and Defence Systems, and a dodgy TV repair shop in the back streets of Plymouth. He can still swap out a gassy PL509 with the best of 'em. If you want to promote your company or product, fine -- but pl... Full Bio

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