Do Viagra ads pass the Turing test?

A question posed by a BBC article on automated text – does automatically-generated spam and the like mean machines have passed the Turing test? The test states that if a machine can have a conversation with a human being and fool it into thinking it’s a human then it can be deemed intelligent.

It’s not very rigorous and is more a useful source of anecdotes – the one about an Unreal player called Barry who spent two weeks chatting up a robot is quite amusing – but the end line in the article gets to the real reason why machines can fool humans: “These examples could be taken as humans failing the Turing test rather than machines passing it.”

All of the examples cited in the article deal (spam, porn over SMS, “aha! you suck!” messages in online gaming) with talking at the level of the gullible or illiterate. But they’re not the only things operating at that level. Looking at the wider world, there’s a lot of human-generated crap out there that computers can mimic with a great degree – stuff like my Daily Mail thing or Kevan Davis’ random projects. Pop lyrics, reality TV show ideas, managerspeak, most political policies, conspiracy theories, Julie Burchill – we could let the machines take over and we wouldn’t notice the difference.

Clare Short’s cowardice

Clare Short reveals the UK spied on Kofi Annan before the Iraq war. Not totally surprised at this, but I am slightly sceptical about her motives here. After all, if it had happened, and using the security services for political leverage rather than national security is a bit iffy, why didn’t she blow the whistle when it happened? And why has she waited until right now, just after GCHQ translator Katharine Gun was cleared of whistleblowing. Why didn’t Clare Short come forward in Gun’s defence? If Gun had been successfully prosecuted and convicted, would Short have said anything at all?

Technically, for airing this revelation, Clare Short could be prosecuted under the Official Secrets Act in a similar way. But while Ms Gun bravely tells the world what her bosses have been doing, loses her job and goes through nearly a year with the threat of a jail sentence hanging over her head, Clare Short waits until it’s safe then gets on the radio as soon as possible to get her name in the headlines.

I will admit this could be missing the wood for the trees here, after all the main issue is that not only did we spy on other Security Council members before the war, but the UN Secretary-General himself – how was he a threat to national security, Mr Blair? How are we, or the Iraqis, better off from snooping on his conversation?