Boffins near to perfecting human/robot communication

We're edging ever closer to the sci-fi-like day when we'll all be happily conversing with robots without thinking anything of it.

So say researchers at Reading University, following the institution's role as home to an artificial intelligence (AI) competition at the weekend.

At least one human was fooled by each of the artificial conversational entitles (ACEs) competing to pass the Turing Test as part of the 18th Loebner Prize.

The winner - a program called Elbot developed by Fred Roberts - managed to fool a quarter of the humans it was interrogated by during the five-minute long conversations to ascertain whether they were conversing with man or machine just falling short of the 30 per cent threshold set by Alan Turing in 1950.

"In hosting the competition here, we wanted to raise the bar in Artificial Intelligence and although the machines aren't yet good enough to fool all of the people all of the time, they are certainly at the stage of fooling some of the people some of the time," said Professor Kevin Warwick from the university's school of systems engineering.

"Today's results actually show a more complex story than a straight pass or fail by one machine. Where the machines were identified correctly by the human interrogators as machines, the conversational abilities of each machine was scored at 80 and 90 per cent.

"This demonstrates how close machines are getting to reaching the milestone of communicating with us in a way in which we are comfortable. That eventual day will herald a new phase in our relationship with machines, bringing closer the time in which robots start to play an active role in our daily lives."

Maggie Holland

Maggie has been a journalist since 1999, starting her career as an editorial assistant on then-weekly magazine Computing, before working her way up to senior reporter level. In 2006, just weeks before ITPro was launched, Maggie joined Dennis Publishing as a reporter. Having worked her way up to editor of ITPro, she was appointed group editor of CloudPro and ITPro in April 2012. She became the editorial director and took responsibility for ChannelPro, in 2016.

Her areas of particular interest, aside from cloud, include management and C-level issues, the business value of technology, green and environmental issues and careers to name but a few.