The Atlantic has a great article this month called Mind vs. Machine (PG for some profanity), adapted from Brian Christian’s book The Most Human Human: What Talking With Computers Tells Us About What It Means To Be Alive. It’s a fascinating and even humorous account of how Christian got himself invited as a participant of the 2009 Turning Test, and his strategy to out-human a computer.
Before you scratch a bald spot on your head, the Turning Test is basically the Super Bowl of the artificial intelligence community. It’s an annual contest where computer programmers come together to see which program is the most convincing at mimicking a human in a five-minute chat with a judge. But these computer programs aren’t just competing with each other. They are also competing with humans.
Here’s how it works… Each judge is placed at a computer to have two chat-style conversations: one with a computer program, the other with a real person. After those two short interactions, the judge has to determine which is the computer and which is the human. As Christian recounts, his goal as one of the humans conversing with the judges was not only to beat out the computer programs, but also to beat all the other humans at being… well, the most human human.
As a writer I found the article to be very helpful to my own craft. One thing authors face when writing dialog is to try to make it sound as natural as possible. Our readers are, in a sense, eavesdropping on what two or more people are saying, and it needs to sound convincing. Otherwise, our readers won’t be able to suspend disbelief and immerse themselves in the story.
Of particular interest to me was when Christian describes how fights don’t keep on subject. When two people are in a heated argument, each statement becomes “unanchored from all context”. What this means is that usually a statement only refers to whatever has just been said, and the discussion quickly meanders away from the original subject. It seems mountains aren’t actually made from molehills – the molehill was completely left behind in the race up the mountain.
Anyway, please go give it a read. If nothing else, it will help you recognize when you’re reading something crafted by a computer instead of a real person.
C6001-XE ver. 2.4 (filling in today for EDC)