Alan Mathison Turing was a mathematician, cryptanalyst, philosopher and computer scientist who is most renowned for his influence in the development of theoretical computer science. He was also highly influential in the conceptual development of artificial intelligence, algorithms and computation. He is widely considered to be the founding father of computer science and artificial intelligence, having published a paper in 1951 where he posed the question: ‘can machines think?’
During the Second World War, Alan Turing was a leading participant in the breaking of German ciphers at Bletchley Park. Turing lead efforts to decode German message transmissions. The main focus of Turing’s work at Bletchley Park was in cracking the ‘Enigma’ code. The Enigma was a type of enciphering machine used by the Germans during WWII to send messages securely. Because the Germans knew the messages were vulnerable to decryption, they made it even more difficult for the allies to decipher the codes by changing the system daily.
In order to substantially decrease the time it took to decrypt German code, Turing played a key role in inventing a machine known as the Bombe. The machine helped decipher German codes and the intelligence gained helped British efforts in winning the war.
What is the Turing Test?
Alan Turing, in a 1951 paper, proposed a test called “The Imitation Game” that might finally settle the issue of machine intelligence. The first version of the game he explained involved no computer intelligence whatsoever. Imagine three rooms, each connected via computer screen and keyboard to the others. In one room sits a man, in the second a woman, and in the third sits a person, an interrogator. The interrogator’s job is to decide which of the two people talking to him through the computer is the man. The man will attempt to help the interrogator, offering whatever evidence he can to prove that he is human. The woman’s job is to trick the judge, so she will attempt to deceive him, and counteract her opponent’s claims, in hopes that the judge will erroneously identify her as the male.
What does any of this have to do with machine intelligence?
Turing proposed an altered version of the test, in which instead of a man and a woman as participants, there was a human, of either gender, and a computer at the other terminal. The interrogator job is to determine which of the participants is human, and which the machine. Turing proposed that if an interrogator were less than 50% accurate, given that they are as likely to pick either option, then the machine should be considered intelligent.