The Most Human Human
A Defence of Humanity in the Age of the Computer
Can computers think? That was the question which provoked English mathematician Alan Turing to come up with what we call the Turing Test, in which a computer engages a human in conversation while a judge, unaware of who is who, looks on and tries to ascertain which participant is made of flesh and blood, and which of bits and bytes. Such a test is held every year in Brighton, England, where the most convincing human confederate is awarded a prize: The Most Human Human. There is also a prize for The Most Human Computer but to date no computer has ever been judged to be more convincingly human than a real person.
Enter Brian Christian who, in 2009, took part in this test (known officially as the Loebner Prize) with the aim of being awarded the prize for Most Human Human. He was successful, and in his new book The Most Human Human: A Defense of Humanity in the Age of the Computer (Penguin, 2011) he charts the methodology of his approach, his conclusions on the conceptual value of the Turing Test and the linguistic insights which arise during conversation with a machine. The artificial intelligence of machines remains relatively primitive, but their programming is canny, and they can even appear to have robust personalities and encyclopaedic knowledge on specialist subjects. Christian’s experiences, presented in the form of his book, provide the reader with an accessible and compelling avenue into the reality of contemporary machine ‘intelligence’, the idiosyncratic tapestry that is language and, most of all, the things which make humans human; the things which machines can’t (yet) do.