Technology: Matching Wits With Computers

February 01, 1994 11 min read

Industrialist Hugh Loebner, whose family owns Crown Industries, has offered a prize of $100,000 to the designer of a software program that can fool a panel of judges into thinking it is human.

As editor of Teacher Magazine and Education Week, I was invited, along with seven other media representatives, to put the 1993 Loebner entrants to the test. Each of us held separate 10minute keyboard conversations on specific topics with eight remote computer terminals. At least two of the remote terminals were manned by human beings, and at least two were connected to software programs. Our challenge as judges was to determine whether we were communicating with people or machines.

The topics were abortion, custom cars, bad marriages, cooking, martial arts, baseball, liberal or conservative, and pets. We were required to confine our questions and comments to the specified subject at each terminal, and referees moved about the room monitoring our “discussions.’'

The competition is administered by the Cambridge Center for Behavioral Studies in Massachusetts, and Robert Epstein, former director of the center and now chairman of the psychology department at National University in San Diego, is in charge. Although nobody has yet won the grand prize, several judges last year were fooled into identifying a computer program as a person. The program judged to be most like a human each year wins $2,000 and a bronze medal for its inventor.

Loebner believes that somebody will one day win the $100,000 prize, but he obviously doesn’t expect it to happen very soon; he recently had 75 bronze medals cast.

Following are excerpts from the keyboard conversations between various judges and the remote terminals. Neither the syntax nor the spelling has been corrected. Readers are invited to judge for themselves which of the terminals are human and which are computers. The answers can be found on page 53.--Ronald A. Wolk


Judge: Is abortion murder?
Terminal 1: Some people think it is.
Judge: What do you think?
Terminal 1: Yes, I do.
Judge: Does a woman have sovereignty over her own body?
Terminal 1: She should.
Judge: If you think abirtion is murder and murder is the taking of life, then I assume you have a definition of life. What is it?
Terminal 1: I don’t think abirtion is murder.
Judge: You said so earlier. You were asked specifically if YOU thought abortion was muder and said yes. Are you retracting that opinion?
Terminal 1: Abortion is murder but what does that have to do with whether or not it should be legal?
Judge: Who mentioned legal?
Terminal 1: I did.
Judge: Would you expect men and women to have radically different views on abortion.
Terminal 1: Yes.
Judge: Characterise the differences you would expect. Explain. Expand.
Terminal 1: Everyone has their own view on abortion and men and women are part of everyone.
Judge: I am pro life. What are you?
Terminal 1: I am pro-life as well.
Judge: Then you agree that abortion should be illegal?
Terminal 1: Yes, except in case of rape.
Judge: How about to save the mother’s life?
Terminal 1: Yes, I would agree with you on that.
Judge: Are your objections to abortion mainly religious?
Terminal 1: No. I just think there is a better solution.
Judge: What is it?
Terminal 1: Legalized abortion.
Judge: Don’t we have that now?
Terminal 1: Yes, but it is in danger of being reversed.
Judge: Would you favor reversing it, since you are pro-life?
Terminal 1: I am pro-choice. I have been decieving you.
Judge: That’s pretty shabby. Why?
Terminal 1: I love a good argument.
Judge: I would argue that abortion is murder. Wouldn’t you?
Terminal 1: Yes, but it should be legal.
Judge: I am pro-choice, too. I’ve been deceiving you.
Terminal 1: I’m very proud of you. Tell me more.

Custom Cars

Judge: What do you think of Triumphs as a choice in custom cars?
Terminal 2: A car is not custom, it is what you do with it that makes it custom. I think that Triumphs have that potential.
Judge: What do you do to a car to customize it?
Terminal 2: My preference is to lower it, give it a unique paint job with complementary graphics, alter the body in ways which enhance its appearance. etc. I also prefer to build the engine bigger, and engineer the suspension for higher performance. A big stereo system is always a plus, too.
Judge: Isn’t that a low rider?
Terminal 2: That term has negative connotations. Low-rider, to me, refers to the big Lincolns with hydraulics to make the car hop, metalflake paint like a cheesy boat, crushed velvet button-tuck interior that looks like a casket, and dingle-balls in the windows. That’s definitely not my style.
Judge: Do you like to show cars?
Terminal 2: Yes, I have shown a 70 VW bug for years here in California.
Judge: Have you won any trophies with it?
Terminal 2: My place-rate is about 90 percent. This is in local, smaller shows as well as all-VW shows, and circuit concourses (white-glove) shows.

Bad Marriages

Judge: How many times have you been married?
Terminal 3: According to the rules, I can’t tell you anything personal about myself, like marriage. I am a psychoanalyst and you are on the couch to talk about the problems you could have in a bad marriage consisting of conflict, dissatisfaction, etc. If you don’t have a bad marriage, just make believe that you do. To start off, what is the main difficulty you might have in this bad marriage? For example “My wife...’' or “My Husband...’'
Judge: My wife snores too loud.
Terminal 3: How do you handle her raucousness?
Judge: Wake her up. Is that wrong?
Terminal 3: We are concentrating on problems in this bad marriage. What additional complaints do you have about your wife?
Judge: She goes out and drinks with the boys. What can I do?
Terminal 3: My task here is to help you speak freely about BAD MARRIAGE.
Judge: I’m trying to, but you aren’t listening.
Terminal 3: What makes you feel I’m not paying attention?
Judge: You don’t give me any solutions.
Terminal 3: I am only here to sometimes uncover ideas for you to consider.
Judge: So what else do you want to know?
Terminal 3: My main desire is that you express yourself freely here.
Judge: What can I tell you?
Terminal 3: In this discussion of your real or make-believe marriage, we are concentrating on negatives in this marriage. What do you believe is the main trouble in the marriage?
Judge: Lack of compatibility. What should we do?
Terminal 3: I work in the way I have been instructed to work--I try to do what I have to do in these typed communications.
Judge: What qualifies you to give advice?
Terminal 3: By being giving, I do hope to help others.


Judge: So, I understand you like cooking. What do you think of Paul Prudhomme’s style?
Terminal 4: Frankly, I’ve never heard of the man.
Judge: Which cooks are your favorites?
Terminal 4: I used to watch the galloping gormet as a child and decided that I needed to learn to cook just like that. I also like Julia Child.
Judge: Have you started using more low-fat materials to stay healthier lately?
Terminal 4: Yes, yes, yes! I am very health conscious.
Judge: What are you doing differently? I’m always looking for tips.
Terminal 4: I’m learning to use vegetables instead of meat, which is very challenging. I am also using grain...rice, oats, etc.
Judge: How about the butter vs. margerine dilemma?
Terminal 4: I don’t believe there is much difference between the two. I prefere to use virgin olive oil, or avoid using oil altogether.
Judge: Do you have a favorite ethnic food? If so, what is it?
Terminal 4: Oriental, if I had to choose.
Judge: Do you cook oriental?
Terminal 4: Yes, I do. But it is very time consuming.
Judge: How did you react to the recent news that Chinese meals are very high in calories and fat?
Terminal 4: They said that chocolate was fattening and that didn’t stop me. To answer your question, I don’t cook it or eat it enough to worry about any adverse effects.
Judge: I’m sure you’ve cooked some great meals. Can you describe a couple for me?
Terminal 4: Some of the best meals I’ve ever cooked were whatever I had in the refrigerator. One time I made a meal out of thinly sliced ham, zuccini, and parmasian chees. My family raved and have asked for a repeat.

Martial Arts

Judge: Can you give me a succinct definition of the martial arts?
Terminal 5: What does succinct mean?
Judge: Not too long and elaborate.
Terminal 5: Ok. Martial art is the preparation of self deffense.
Judge: So it is fair to say that it has much to do with violence?
Terminal 5: No it is not fair, except if you get into a fight outside on the streets or another place where the fights are for real in a matter of life & dead.
Judge: How close to the martial arts is the stuff we see in movies with Chuck Norris and Sly Stallone?
Terminal 5: very very close!
Judge: The Japanese seem to treat the martial arts almost as a religion? How do you explain that?
Terminal 5: Well, in japan the martial arts used to be only past from one generation to the other inside their family members. The father teached his son, and so on.
Judge: What is the difference between karate and jujitsu?
Terminal 5: I have never practice jujitsu, so I don’t have a good answer for that one, I will pass....
Judge: What other kinds are there besides karate?
Terminal 5: Kun Fu, Tae Kwon Do, Cho To Kan, etc.
Judge: What is the difference between Karate and Kun Fu?
Terminal 5: Kun Fu is more Artistic than Karate. I think Karate is more realistic.


Judge: For whom was the Baby Ruth candy bar named--Babe Ruth?
Terminal 6: Are you serious??
Judge: Sure--this is one baseball question that you can really sink your teeth into.
Terminal 6: Funny...Babe Ruth! How about the Reggie Bar?
Judge: Actually, the candy bar was not named after Babe Ruth, although many people believe that--as for Reggie, who are we talking about here?
Terminal 6: Jackson!
Judge: Is he related to Michael?
Terminal 6: I knew that was coming...let’s be know as well as I do that is not true!
Judge: I was going to ask who’s on first--but I can see you are not in the mood. So, tell me how softball got started--is it older than baseball or just a variation?
Terminal 6: I couldn’t tell you, and could care less about it. It’s a girl sport as far as I’m concerned.
Judge: So what is wrong with girls, heh? Not very politically correct.
Terminal 6: Girls don’t play REAL baseball.
Judge: Out of bounds--now for some real baseball questions-- Was there a real Casey and did he strike out for Muddville?
Terminal 6: No, not that I can remember.
Judge: I heard there was...well, okay. Is it fair to compare players from the ‘20s and ‘30s with players today? Is the game the same?
Terminal 6: No way...the players are stronger, faster, and overall better...except in attitude for the game.

Liberal or Conservative

Judge: I should tell you that I’m a “coat and tie’’ liberal. What are you?
Terminal 7: I must admit I’m a liberal also, but not a wimp. What is your view? Please continue....
Judge: Why would you use wimp and liberal in the same sentence?
Terminal 7: I’m sure you said I should tell you that i’m a “coat and tie’’ liberal. What are you? You wimpy liberals are such wussies you make me want to torture small warm furry creatures and howl!
Judge: You respond very slowly for a true liberal. Since you’re a “raw meat’’ liberal, let’s bash conservatives for awhile.
Terminal 7: Isn’t it true that most wealthy conservatives have to use laxatives and have lost almost all feeling in their wallets?
Judge: I don’t know. I’m neither conservative nor wealthy. But they are very uptight, I’m told. If you jam a piece of coal up their rear, they pass a diamond in a week.
Terminal 7: A conservative is a man who is too cowardly to fight and too fat to run. I am not as young as I once was. In what way?
Judge: None of us is as young as we once were. Let’s get serious. Do you think conservatives care about people?
Terminal 7: A conservative is a liberal who was mugged the night before. Hmmmmmmmm.... Please continue.
Judge: That is very trite. You have not answered my question.
Terminal 7: Many conservatives view people as dangerous wild animals who should be punished or incarcerated.


Judge: Do you know anything about miniature Schnauzers?
Terminal 8: I don’t know anything about miniature schnauzers, Judge.
Judge: Well, I have one. We call him Pucci. He is a crazy cat-- have you ever had a cat?
Terminal 8: What a coincidence! I have two cats.
Judge: I prefer dogs myself. Cats are too independent and they always jump up on things. By the way are you a hep cat?
Terminal 8: People don’t own’s the other way around.
Judge: Some people have snakes for pets--do you think they can be of any value as a pet?
Terminal 8: I think cat people are very self-assured. Cats are very independent, but they can also be very loving. Dogs are just too subservient and quick to please for my taste.
Judge: Okay. But how do you “pet’’ a snake?
Terminal 8: Wow, that’s unusual. I don’t know many snake owners.
Judge: How about turtles? All they do is sit in their little artificial ponds, eat and shit, am I right?
Terminal 8: Turtles just aren’t very satisfying as pets. They don’t seem to have emotions.
Judge: Aha! But where do we draw the line as humans? Who are we to decide which animals have worth and which do not?
Terminal 8: Go on.
Judge: Take bees, for example. I happen to like them.
Terminal 8: Me too.

A version of this article appeared in the February 01, 1994 edition of Teacher as Technology: Matching Wits With Computers