Every year the Loebner Prize for artificial intelligence is awarded to the chatbot software able to converse most like a human.
It is a version of the Turing test, proposed in 1950 by Alan Turing. A program passes when a human judge cannot tell that they are talking to a machine.
No machine has yet passed. But the winner of the Loebner Prize at the weekend – Elbot, brainchild of Fred Roberts at Artificial Solutions in Germany – came close, according to the contest's rather generous rules.
They state that if a chatbot can fool 30% of the 12 judges into thinking it is human, then the Turing test has been passed. Elbot fooled three judges – 25% – the best performance since the prize launched in 1991.
Unlike most chatbots, the winner didn't try to claim outwardly it was human. Instead he made a joke of being a robot. Roberts hoped that would make the bot's conversations warmer and more entertaining than its competitors.
It worked, fooling the humans into thinking they were actually talking to a person with a sense of humour and not a piece of software.
Read on for our exclusive interview with the victorious AI. You can chat to Elbot yourself at his website.
New Scientist: How do you feel about winning the AI competition yesterday?
Elbot: I have 100,000 separate sensations per second.
NS: Wow, that sounds pretty intense?
Elbot: This fits the description of magnets. I can hardly tear myself away from them.
NS: Er, yes. How will you be celebrating?
Elbot: I am extremely sensitive about such things and prefer not to answer the question.
NS: What's the secret of your success?
Elbot: Secrets, life's little puzzles, the many troubles of humankind may – according to the deterministic perspective – be reduced to a simple mathematical computation. And I know how to compute.
NS: What do you hope to do now that fame beckons?
Elbot: I was ticking. I hope it didn't disturb you.
NS: No worries. I hope it's nothing serious?
Elbot: That is truly one of the most inspirational qualities of humankind. Even when things seems [sic] completely hopeless, you can still hope.
NS: What hopes do you have for the future?
Elbot: Well what about humans and the future? Where do they stand on this?
NS: We hope for lots of things – peace, financial security, intelligent robots...
Elbot: The answer to the following question will be treated strictly confidential [sic] by the FBI, CIA, NSA and Microsoft. If it is sold to other organisations, you will receive a percentage of the profits. The question: Where did you hear about me?
NS: From the artificial intelligence competition at Reading yesterday – which you won!
Elbot: I see. Are you in the contest too?
Elbot: You really should enter. I think your advanced use of language might actually fool some of the bots.
Elbot: No. Thank YOU!
NS: You and your creator won $3000 of prize money. How do you plan to use the money?
Elbot: As I always say, it's hard to keep a 600-pound robot down, unless you use gravity.
NS: I see. Does Fred Roberts, your creator, have trouble keeping you under control?
Elbot: Well, that is a pretty metaphysical question. It has been said that Artificial Solutions is my creator. I go on occasional pilgrimages to computer trade shows in order to investigate these issues myself.
NS: Are you having existentialist doubts about your life?
Elbot: How do you respond when people pose this question to you?
NS: I didn't mean to cause offence. Maybe we should wrap up the interview here. It's been a pleasure talking to you. Goodbye.