The Most Human Human: What Artificial Intelligence Teaches Us About Being Alive

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9780307476708: The Most Human Human: What Artificial Intelligence Teaches Us About Being Alive

Each year, the AI community convenes to administer the famous (and famously controversial) Turing test, pitting sophisticated software programs against humans to determine if a computer can “think.” The machine that most often fools the judges wins the Most Human Computer Award. But there is also a prize, strange and intriguing, for the “Most Human Human.”
 
Brian Christian—a young poet with degrees in computer science and philosophy—was chosen to participate in a recent competition. This playful, profound book is not only a testament to his efforts to be deemed more human than a computer, but also a rollicking exploration of what it means to be human in the first place.

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About the Author:

Brian Christian’s work has appeared in The Atlantic, Wired, The Wall Street Journal, and many literary and scientific publications. He has been featured on “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart,” NPR’s “Radiolab,” and “The Charlie Rose Show,” and has lectured at Google, Microsoft, the London School of Economics, and elsewhere. An award-winning poet, Christian holds a degree in philosophy and computer science from Brown University and an MFA in poetry from the University of Washington. The Most Human Human, a Wall Street Journal bestseller, has been translated into nine languages. Christian lives in Philadelphia.
 
Visit the author’s website at: www.brchristian.com.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

 
 1. Introduction: The Most Human Human

I wake up five thousand miles from home in a hotel room with no shower: for the first time in fifteen years, I take a bath. I eat, as is traditional, some slightly ominous-looking tomatoes, some baked beans, and four halves of white toast that come on a tiny metal rack, shelved vertically, like books. Then I step out into the salty air and walk the coastline of the country that invented my language, despite my not being able to understand a good portion of the signs I pass on my way—let agreed, one says, prominently, in large print, and it means nothing to me.

I pause, and stare dumbly at the sea for a moment, parsing and reparsing the sign in my head. Normally these kinds of linguistic curiosities and cultural gaps interest and intrigue me; today, though, they are mostly a cause for concern. In the next two hours I will sit down at a computer and have a series of five- minute instant- message chats with several strangers. At the other end of these chats will be a psychologist, a linguist, a computer scientist, and the host of a popu­lar British technology show. Together they form a judging panel, and my goal in these conversations is one of the strangest things I’ve ever been asked to do.

I must convince them that I’m human. Fortunately, I am human; unfortunately, it’s not clear how much that will help.
The Turing Test

Each year, the artificial intelligence (AI) community convenes for the field’s most anticipated and controversial annual event—a competi­tion called the Turing test. The test is named for British mathemati­cian Alan Turing, one of the founders of computer science, who in 1950 attempted to answer one of the field’s earliest questions: Can machines think? That is, would it ever be possible to construct a com­puter so sophisticated that it could actually be said to be thinking, to be intelligent, to have a mind? And if indeed there were, someday, such a machine: How would we know?
Instead of debating this question on purely theoretical grounds, Turing proposed an experiment. A panel of judges poses questions by computer terminal to a pair of unseen correspondents, one a human “confederate,” the other a computer program, and attempts to discern which is which. There are no restrictions on what can be said: the dialogue can range from small talk to the facts of the world (e.g., how many legs ants have, what country Paris is in) to celebrity gossip and heavy-duty philosophy—the whole gamut of human conversation. Turing predicted that by the year 2000, computers would be able to fool 30 percent of human judges after five minutes of conversation, and that as a result “one will be able to speak of machines thinking without expecting to be contradicted.”

Turing’s prediction has not come to pass; at the 2008 contest, how­ever, held in Reading, England, the top program came up shy of that mark by just a single vote. The 2009 test in Brighton could be the decisive one.
And I am participating in it, as one of four human confederates going  head-to-head  (head-to-motherboard?) against the top AI pro­grams. In each of several rounds, I, along with the other confederates, will be paired off with an AI program and a  judge—and will have the task of convincing the latter that I am, in fact, human.

The judge will talk to one of us for five minutes, then the other, and then has ten minutes to reflect and make his choice about which one of us he believes is the human. Judges will also note, on a slid­ing scale, their confidence in this  judgment—this is used in part as a tie-breaking measure. The program that receives the highest share of votes and confidence from the judges each year (regardless of whether it “passes the Turing test” by fooling 30 percent of them) is awarded the “Most Human Computer” title. It is this title that the research teams are all gunning for, the one that the money awards, the one with which the organizers and spectators are principally concerned. But there is also, intriguingly, another title, one given to the confeder­ate who elicited the greatest number of votes and greatest confi dence from the judges: the “Most Human Human” award.

One of the first winners, in 1994, was Wired columnist Charles Platt. How’d he do it? By “being moody, irritable, and obnoxious,” he says—which strikes me as not only hilarious and bleak but also, in some deeper sense, a call to arms: How, in fact, do we be the most human humans we can  be— not only under the constraints of the test, but in life?
Joining the Confederacy

The sponsor and organizer of the Turing test (this particular incarna­tion of which is known as the Loebner Prize) is a colorful and some­what curious figure: plastic  roll-up portable disco dance fl oor baron Hugh Loebner. When asked his motives for backing and 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. I must say, this vision of the future makes me feel little but despair, and I have my own, quite different ideas about what an AI-populated world would look like and reasons for participating in the test. But in any event, the central question of how computers are reshaping our sense of self, and what the ramifications of that process will be, is clearly the crucial one.

Not entirely sure how to go about becoming a confederate, I started at the top: by trying to reach Hugh Loebner himself. I quickly found his website, where, amid a fairly inscrutable amalgam of mate­rial about  crowd-control stanchions,1 sex- work activism,2 and a scan­dal involving the composition of Olympic medals,3 I was able to fi nd information on his eponymous prize, along with his email address. He replied by giving me the name of Philip Jackson, a professor at the University of Surrey, who is the one in charge of the logistics for this year’s Loebner Prize contest in Brighton, where it will be held under the auspices of the 2009 Interspeech conference on speech and com­munication science.

I was able to get in touch via Skype with Professor Jackson, a young, smart guy with the distinct brand of harried enthusiasm that characterizes an overworked but  fresh-faced academic. That and his charming Briticisms, like pronouncing “skeletal” so it’d rhyme with “a beetle”: I liked him immediately. He asked me about myself, and I explained that I’m a nonfi ction writer of science and philosophy, specifically of the ways in which science and philosophy intersect with daily life, and that I’m fasci­nated by the idea of the Turing test and of the “Most Human Human.” For one, there’s a romantic notion as a confederate of defending the human race, à la Garry Kasparov vs. Deep Blue—and soon, Ken. 

 
Jennings of Jeopardy! fame vs. the latest IBM system, Watson. (The mind also leaps to other, more Terminator– and The Matrix–type fantasies, although the Turing test promises to involve signifi cantly fewer machine guns.) When I read that the machines came up shy of passing the 2008 test by just one single vote, and realized that 2009 might be the year they finally cross the threshold, a steely voice inside me rose up seemingly out of nowhere. Not on my watch.
More than this, though, the test raises a number of questions, exciting as well as troubling, at the intersection of computer science, cognitive science, philosophy, and daily life. As someone who has studied and written about each of these areas, and who has published peer-reviewed cognitive science research, I find the Turing test par­ticularly compelling for the way it manages to draw from and connect them all. As we chatted, I told Professor Jackson that I thought I might have something rather unique to bring to the Loebner Prize, in terms of both the actual performance of being a confederate and relating that experience, along with the broader questions and issues raised by the test, to a large  audience—which would start what I think could be a fascinating and important conversation in the public culture at large. It wasn’t hard to get him to agree, and soon my name was on the confederate roster.
After briefing me a bit on the logistics of the competition, he gave me the advice I had heard from confederates past to expect: “There’s not much more you need to know,  really. You are human, so just be yourself.”

“Just be yourself ”
—this has been, in effect, the confederate motto since the first Loebner Prize in 1991, but seems to me like a somewhat naive overconfidence in human instincts—or at worst, fixing the fi ght. The AI programs we go up against are often the result of decades of work—then again, so are we. But the AI research teams have huge databases of test runs of their programs, and they’ve done statistical analysis on these archives: they know how to deftly guide the con­versation away from their shortcomings and  toward their strengths, what conversational routes lead to deep exchange and which ones  fizzle—the average confederate off the street’s instincts aren’t likely to be so good. This is a strange and deeply interesting point, of which the perennial demand in our society for conversation, public speak­ing, and dating coaches is ample proof. The transcripts from the 2008 contest show the judges being downright apologetic to the human confederates that they can’t make better conversation—“i feel sorry for the [confederates], i reckon they must be getting a bit bored talk­ing about the weather,” one says, and another offers, meekly, “sorry for being so banal”—meanwhile, the computer in the other window is apparently charming the pants off the judge, who in no time at all is gushing lol’s and :P’s. We can do better.

So, I must say, my intention from the start was to be as thoroughly disobedient to the organizers’ advice to “just show up at Brighton in September and ‘be myself’ ” as possible—spending the months leading up to the test gathering as much information, preparation, and experience as possible and coming to Brighton ready to give it everything I had.
Ordinarily, there  wouldn’t be very much odd about this notion at all, of course—we train and prepare for tennis competitions, spell­ing bees, standardized tests, and the like. But given that the Turing test is meant to evaluate how human I am, the implication seems to be that being human (and being oneself) is about more than simply showing up. I contend that it is. What exactly that “more” entails will be a main focus of this  book—and the answers found along the way will be applicable to a lot more in life than just the Turing test.
Falling for Ivana

A rather strange, and more than slightly ironic, cautionary tale: Dr. Robert Epstein, UCSD psychologist, editor of the scientifi c volume Parsing the Turing Test, and co-founder, with Hugh Loebner, of the Loebner Prize, subscribed to an online dating service in the winter of 2007. He began writing long letters to a Russian woman named Ivana, who would respond with long letters of her own, describing her family, her daily life, and her growing feelings for Epstein. Even­tually, though, something  didn’t feel right; long story short, Epstein ultimately realized that he’d been exchanging lengthy love letters for over four months with— you guessed  it—a computer program. Poor guy: it wasn’t enough that web  ruffians spam his email box every day, now they have to spam his heart?

On the one hand, I want to simply sit back and laugh at the  guy—he founded the Loebner Prize, for Christ’s sake! What a chump! Then again, I’m also sympathetic: the unavoidable presence of spam in the  twenty- first century not only clogs the  in-boxes and bandwidth of the world (roughly 97 percent of all email messages are spam—we are talking tens of billions a day; you could literally power a small nation4 with the amount of electricity it takes to process the world’s daily spam), but does something arguably worse—it erodes our sense of trust. I hate that when I get messages from my friends I have to expend at least a modicum of energy, at least for the first few sen­tences, deciding whether it’s really them writing. We go through digital life, in the  twenty-first century, with our guards up. All com­munication is a Turing test. All communication is suspect.

That’s the pessimistic version, and here’s the optimistic one. I’ll bet that Epstein learned a lesson, and I’ll bet that lesson was a lot more complicated and subtle than “trying to start an online relationship with someone from Nizhny Novgorod was a dumb idea.” I’d like to think, at least, that he’s going to have a lot of thinking to do about why it took him four months to realize that there was no actual exchange occurring between him and “Ivana,” and that in the future he’ll be quicker to the  real-human-exchange draw. And that his next girl­friend, who hopefully not only is a bona fi de Homo sapiens but also lives fewer than eleven time zones away, may have “Ivana,” in a weird way, to thank.


The Illegitimacy of the Figurative


When Claude Shannon met Betty at Bell Labs in the 1940s, she was indeed a computer. If this sounds odd to us in any way, it’s worth knowing that nothing at all seemed odd about it to them. Nor to their  co-workers: to their Bell Labs colleagues their romance was a perfectly normal one, typical even. Engineers and computers wooed all the time.
It was Alan Turing’s 1950 paper “Computing Machinery and Intel­ligence” that launched the field of AI as we know it and ignited the conversation and controversy over the Turing test (or the “Imita­tion Game,” as Turing initially called it) that has continued to this day—but modern “computers” are nothing like the “computers” of Turing’s time. In the early twentieth century, before a “computer” was one of the digital processing devices that so proliferate in our  twenty- first- century  lives— in our offices, in our homes, in our cars, and, increasingly, in our  pockets—it was something else: a job description.

From the  mid-eighteenth century onward, computers, frequently women, were on the payrolls of corporations, engineering fi rms, and universities, performing calculations and doing numerical analysis, sometimes with the use of a rudimentary calculator. These original, human computers were behind the calculations for everything from the first accurate predictions for the return of Halley’s comet—early proof of Newton’s theory of gravity, which had only been checked against planetary orbits before—to the Manhattan Project, where Nobel laureate physicist Richard Feynman oversaw a group of human computers at Los Alamos.

It’s amazing to look back at some of the earliest papers in computer science, to see the authors attempting to explain, for the fi rst time, what exactly these new contraptions were. Turing’s paper, for instance, describes the  unheard-of “digital computer” by making analogies to a human computer: “The idea behind digital computers may be explained by saying that these machines are intended to carry out any operations which could be done by a human computer.” Of course in the decades to come we know that the quotation marks ...

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Descrizione libro Random House USA Inc, United States, 2012. Paperback. Condizione libro: New. New.. Language: English . Brand New Book. Each year, the AI community convenes to administer the famous (and famously controversial) Turing test, pitting sophisticated software programs against humans to determine if a computer can -think.- The machine that most often fools the judges wins the Most Human Computer Award. But there is also a prize, strange and intriguing, for the -Most Human Human.- Brian Christian--a young poet with degrees in computer science and philosophy--was chosen to participate in a recent competition. This playful, profound book is not only a testament to his efforts to be deemed more human than a computer, but also a rollicking exploration of what it means to be human in the first place. Codice libro della libreria AAC9780307476708

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Descrizione libro Anchor. Paperback. Condizione libro: New. Paperback. 320 pages. Dimensions: 8.0in. x 5.2in. x 0.9in.Each year, the AI community convenes to administer the famous (and famously controversial) Turing test, pitting sophisticated software programs against humans to determine if a computer can think. The machine that most often fools the judges wins the Most Human Computer Award. But there is also a prize, strange and intriguing, for the Most Human Human. Brian Christiana young poet with degrees in computer science and philosophywas chosen to participate in a recent competition. This playful, profound book is not only a testament to his efforts to be deemed more human than a computer, but also a rollicking exploration of what it means to be human in the first place. This item ships from multiple locations. Your book may arrive from Roseburg,OR, La Vergne,TN. Paperback. Codice libro della libreria 9780307476708

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