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Ubuntu Linux Passes the Turing Test
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April 29, 2006
Alan Turing, who could justifiably be called the founder of computer science, wrote a paper in 1950 in which he proposed a thought experiment to test whether a machine was intelligent.
The Turing Test went like this: An inquisitor communicates via a teletype (today we would use instant messaging) with a man and a woman and attempts to determine which is which. (Whether the inquisitor is successful or not doesn't matter.) After the game goes on a while, the man is replaced by a machine, and then the game resumes. If the inquisitor is unable to detect that the substitution took place, then the machine is said to be intelligent.
(While the machine might be doing a poor job of simulating a man, with wacky responses, that also might be the man acting that way to fool the inquisitor. Women readers might even argue that such behavior would be normal for a man.)
The Turing Test is often shortened to just testing whether one can tell if the thing at the other end of the conversation is a person or a machine. That's not what Turing said, but it captures at least the general idea.
Anyway, yesterday my daughter wanted to use one of my computers to check something on the web. She always uses the Dell running Windows, at the end of the table, never the Mac in the corner position, because she knows that I'm likely to want to get to the Mac at any time.
But the Dell is really two Dells connected to one screen and keyboard via a KVM switch, and it's usually switched to the Windows machine. The other machine runs Ubuntu Linux, and usually doesn't have the screen and keyboard because I use it mostly as a server.
But yesterday the KVM was switched to Ubuntu, and I had FireFox running, full screen.
After a while my daughter called me over to see something, and I said, "Oh... you're on Linux! Didn't you notice?"
She replied, "Well, some things looked different, but I thought it was Windows."
Ubuntu Linux has passed the Turing Test!
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The 2004 2nd Edition, a so-called "update" of the 1985 book, which turned out, not surprisingly, to be a re-write. Covers Solaris, Linux, FreeBSD, and Darwin (Mac OS X).
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