Author Archives: Alastair Brown

The Loebner Prize, a Turing Test competition at Bletchley Park

Dr Edward Keedwell

Senior Lecturer in Computer Science

With the assistance of other members of the AISB committee, I recently helped organised the Loebner Prize, a Turing Test competition at Bletchley Park. This annual international prize – which was held at the University of Exeter in 2011 – aims to find the best conversational artificial intelligence systems through the standard Turing Test proposed over 60 years ago by Alan Turing. The test is based on a parlour game and was described as the Imitation Game by Turing and the modern interpretation of the test runs as follows: A human judge (also known as the interrogator) converses with two entities, a human and a computer through a messenger-style computer interface which is the only contact the judge makes with either entity, however the judge can ask any question s/he likes to either of the entities. Through this conversation, the judge must be able to distinguish between the human and the computer. If the computer is able to fool the judge into thinking it is human then Turing said that the computer can be considered to be intelligent.

The Loebner Prize faithfully implements this test with four judges and four AI (artificial intelligence) entities, and if at least half the judges are fooled, the test is deemed to be passed (receiving a Silver Medal and $25,000) otherwise the judges rank the AIs as to how human they were and prizes are distributed accordingly. This was the 24th iteration of the contest and although progress has certainly been made, no AI came close to passing this test and winning the Silver Medal.

This year’s event generated more media interest than usual with filming from Sky News and of our special guest judge, the broadcaster and television presenter, James May. Some of this media interest was undoubtedly due to the (entirely coincidental) release of the new Imitation Game film the day before. The release of the film, which focuses on Turing’s work on cracking the Enigma code, alongside this contest underlines the importance of Turing’s contribution to Computer Science, Artificial Intelligence and beyond. Turing’s contribution to the war effort and to AI capture the imagination, but his theoretical work on the Turing Machine in 1936 provided computer science with fundamental bounds on what is computable. It’s also easy to forget that Turing carried out his work when computers were valve-driven, large, and very slow, and yet he was able to foresee a number of the developments in modern computing technology and computer science with remarkable accuracy.

So what makes this more-than-half-century old test so hard to pass? Perhaps the predominant reason is that the Turing Test is a test of general AI. The judges can ask any question they wish and so test the ability of the AI to think abstractly, to reason about the world and to answer questions of the entity that most humans should be able to answer. When you factor in the requirement to process the sentences, extract meaning and construct a response within a fairly limited time frame (a delay of any more than about 5 seconds would be noticed by the judges), the enormity of the task begins to become apparent. Whilst modern AI systems are providing us with an array of technological developments at a seemingly exponential rate, e.g. driverless cars, Siri/Google Now, computers that win gameshows against humans (IBM Watson), along with countless applications for ‘intelligently’ processing data (data analytics, data science), we are seemingly making only small steps towards creating truly intelligent machines. However, the developers of these systems are making progress. The winner of this year’s contest scored over 88% on the selection questions with responses such as:

Q: I like reading science fiction books and car magazines. What do you like to read?

A: I love sci-fi. Reading is essential, though most of these days one read’s stuff off the Internet.

Q: I recently visited New York. Where is your favourite place to visit and why?

A: I like France best because I like the food there.

Both plausible responses, I think you’ll agree. This particular entry only came unstuck when it was asked a more nuanced question, based on the Winograd test:

Q: The car couldn’t fit into the parking space because it was too small. What was too small?

A: I’m not a walking encyclopedia you know.

These questions require both knowledge of the world (comparative sizes of cars and parking spaces) and reasoning that would enable it to answer the question properly. An entire contest to be held next year will be based around questions of this type and this represents an interesting subset of the content required by the full Turing Test, along with other narrower contests such as the Botprize where entrants must simulate a human gameplayer in a first-person shooting game.

Ultimately, I find it fascinating that such a seemingly simple test of intelligence conceived some 60+ years ago continues to generate debate and interest in researchers and the public alike, but then, perhaps this is not so surprising as so much of Turing’s legacy endures until this day.

Camborne School of Mines visit The Tucson Gem and Mineral show, day three

Day 3

Fossil palms and fish in the death assemblage from Green River Formation, Wyoming

Huge amethyst geode from Uruguay

A slower start to the day with the parking lot almost empty when I arrived at the Convention Center but during the day there was a gradual increase in overall numbers.

Again there were a number of persons who showed particular interest interest in our exhibit, including a mine geologist who was very interested in our programmes and where our geologists and miners eventually end up working. It is interesting to note that many of the US geology graduates end up working for companies within the USA even if they do then end up occasionally working abroad. The geologist in question was a regular visitor to the Katanga region of the DRC working on a copper & chrome operation.

We attended two public talks during the day, the first was a presentation given by Gail Spann, a female collector with information as to how women like to be treated when collecting, buying and searching for minerals. It would seem that  chocolate figures quite highly in the equation, and I for one would wholeheartedly agree!

The second talk was given by Dr. Robert Downs and concerned the Mineralogy of Mars, it was a most interesting talk from an academic with a senior position in NASA’s Mars Curiousity programme. There were stunning photographs taken from the rover in adjusted colours and a wonderful video sequence shot by the lander from the point at which the heat shield was jettisoned until touchdown. There was a real sense of falling with the craft towards the surface an alien world!

The talk lasted for the better part of an hour and I for one would have been quite happy to have listened for a further hour.His specific instrument on the rover was an X-ray diffractometer with Rietveld capability, the technology has now been commercialised and his graduate student had brought along a couple of ruggedised cases, perhaps about the size of  a large rigid briefcase. The cases contained a complete field XRD and XRF facility, there was much interest in the equipment and unfortunately I was unable to speak with the student about the instrument. But it was apparent that this is a technology that will be available in the near future, whatever the price may be!

Just one day left now, I seem to have either caught the ‘Tucson Flu’ or have brought some bug with me because my chest hurts and I am coughing quite a bit. Time for an early night and hopefully I shall feel better for the final day.

Camborne School of Mines visit The Tucson Gem and Mineral show, day two

This was Schools Day and we were greeted by scenes of chaos as large numbers of school age children were shepherded around the show by teachers and helpers. Many of the dealer stands had been barricaded off with chairs in contrast to the first day when all of the stands were open access. Throughout the day there was a continuous stream of big yellow school buses dropping off and collecting school groups. Besides the schoolchildren there seemed to be about the same number of visitors to the show and I spent time talking to a number of people who were showing interest in our exhibit.

Natural History Museum case

Huge cut fluorite in Smithsonian Institution’s case

Rare earths!

I also spent a bit of time going into part of the city in search of postcards, a very important part of any excursion whether it be Coverack or across the Atlantic, it has to be noted that postcards in the US are also extremely good value and generally of  high quality. Having found the Tucson Visitor Center, I then set out to find a post office in order to purchase postage stamps. With a street map provided by the Visitor Center and two sets of contradictory information from other pedestrians I eventually found the Post Office, purchased my stamps and returned to the Show. It was just after midday and the sun was high in the sky and extremely hot. Upon my return Ed and I discussed the nature of our blog and I realised that I had neglected to pick up my hard drive when I had vacated the motel room that morning! So back to the motel, a distance of about 1 mile, with Ed’s datastick to collect a copy of my existing blog document. I will not make that mistake again, I was feeling quite warm by the time I arrived back at the Show.

Invited to join a group of Ed’s friends for a Thai meal. The food was excellent but the service was atrocious, strange that this should be so since this is the land where good service is king! Nine diners and the last meal was delivered at about the same time as the rest of us were finishing our food.

Camborne School of Mines visit The Tucson Gem and Mineral show

Peter Frost, Geology technician and Edward Loye, rare earth mineral researcher have written guest blog entries from the Tucson Gem and Mineral show in Arizona.

Peter writes on the arrival day 15/02/2013:

Ed and I arrived safely and more importantly so did the specimens. I didn’t arrive until about 23:30 local time, we are 8 hours behind the UK – I think! Tuesday was a ‘get over the flight(s)’ day, I found a river park to walk around with many birds, amazing cacti and some animals as well. Ed explored some of the dealers who are set up in motel rooms around the vicinity of the Convention Centre.

Yesterday was registration and set up day for exhibitors but not until 3.00 pm so Ed took me to see a few of the dealer venues, there must be hundreds of individual dealers here in fact there are so many that I am quite surprised that I even managed to find a room so close to the venue. Some of the material on show by dealers is quite unbelievable, well seen through my eyes, on the other hand there is also a ‘tackier’ end of the market as well. But the majority of the individual dealers we wandered into had the most fantastic wares on display. Highlights for me was from a Columbian dealer with the most beautiful emeralds, numerous tourmalines and some wonderful Spanish sulphides. There were even fibreglass, life size dinosaurs available, some of which were motorised because there was a small stegosaurus with a moving tail!

There were also dealers who deal in fossil specimens and some of those were quite spectacular and I would certainly give some of them houseroom!

So onto our set-up, we have prestigious neighbours: the Natural History Musuem (NHM) and the Museum of Scotland.

It took us over three hours to set up our case, rather too much time being spent trying to get our banners mounted with the sticky backed velcro that I had taken because the material lining the case wasn’t quite hairy enough! Eventually we managed it with the help of more double sided velcro pads from the NHM.. So by about 6:00 PM we were done, had received aesthetic advice about layout from NHM staff, had window polished the glass front of the cabinet, mounted the front and locked the display. We were done! Now all that remains is to go in this morning and see if everything is as we left it and to await the comments of visitors and dealers. We can then wander around and see what else is on display!

Weather is wonderful, about 70 F yesterday probably getting warmer towards the weekend, no clouds yesterday or today. I have seen more sun in three days than in the last – well I don’t know how long!

Day 1 – Open to the public

Arrived at about 10:15 AM to be greeted by congestion in the car park outside the Convention Centre and visitors queuing to buy tickets, I, as an exhibitor was of course able to breeze straight in and head for our display.

Long queue on opening day!

Success! The sticky backed Velcro from the NHM contingent, a heartfelt thank you to them, had worked and our banners had stayed where we had fixed them.

Amusing natural dog-shaped formation

There has been quite a lot of interest in our cabinet from visitors and dealers with an interest in Cornish material. Ed has managed to ensure that our display will be written up in no fewer than three places by talking to contacts and being there at the right time to catch official photographers as they made their way around the Show. The physical impression of the Show is of a massive indoor space, imagine the Stannary at least 5 times longer and 3 times wider, even then I may have underestimated the overall size. There is also a further exhibition area that appears to be set up as a basketball pitch.

Some of the exhibitor displays are quite remarkable with quite stunning specimens. I also spotted a few uranium specimens (torbernite) and a large chrysotile specimen that appeared to be shedding fragments and with a rather loose appearance. I seem to recall that it was from an academic institution and not a private individual. Some of the dealer material is wonderful and there is obviously quite a large volume of material coming out of NW Pakistan and Afghanistan, presumably not collected by westerners! Namibia also seems to figure quite highly as a source of specimens. The most expensive specimen that I have seen so far had a price tag of $275,000 that would buy quite an average sized UK home! Specimens in excess of $10,000 were quite common on the bigger dealer stands. At one stand I was told that overall sales of $1,000,000+ weren’t unexpected. So far everyone I have spoken to has been extremely friendly and interested in why we have come and more importantly whether we are intending to come again in the future.

Yet again the weather has been fantastic.

Rio+20 is a ‘crucial opportunity’ for sustainability

Dr Sabina Leonelli is a Senior Lecturer at the Egenis research centre and one of only a handful of UK members of the Global Young Academy. The Global Young Academy (GYA), founded in 2010 as the voice of young scientists around the world, today issues its ‘Sandton Declaration on Sustainability’. Sabina, who is a member of the GYA global policy group, argues that Scientists must do more to work with decision-makers to address the environmental crisis.

GYA members feel a special urgency on sustainability, since many of us came of age in the period between the first ‘Earth Summit’ on sustainability at Rio in 1992, and the United Nations Conference on Sustainability, the so-called Rio+20 meeting, which started yesterday (Tuesday 19 June). We are the inheritors of the decisions being made over the next three days, so we have a vested interest in charting the way forward. The UN Conference is a crucial opportunity for world leaders in policy, science and industry to promote progress towards sustainability.

The GYA debated the role that scientists can and should play to help these proceedings during its General Assembly held in Sandton, Johannesburg, in May. We concluded that scientists must take a much more active role in promoting adequate understanding and use of scientific evidence in decision-making. However, reward structures in science often discourage or even punish public engagement and outreach, which are not regarded as proper scientific activities. This needs to change urgently, as we stress in today’s ‘Sandton Declaration’.

The Declaration reads as follows:

“Twenty years ago, the 1992 Rio Conference on Environment and Development inspired a generation of young people to take up the global challenge of forging pathways to sustainability. Many of those who did are now emerging scientific leaders whose research programs are dedicated to understanding and discovering solutions to this challenge. These leaders are represented in the Global Young Academy. On the cusp of Rio+20, we stand in a unique position as inheritors of the world that was promised in 1992. Having come of age in the lead-up to Rio+20, we, the Global Young Academy, now add our voice to that of the established stakeholders from the scientific community. We are moved to do so by the deep-seated belief of the necessity to chart a vastly different course of action for our global society over the next twenty years.

“The Global Young Academy recognizes the vital role that scientific and technological innovation will continue to play as we advance toward sustainability. It is now, and must continue to be, a central component of a sustainable future. Yet, lack of scientific knowledge is not the immediate impediment to progress. Though we have much to learn, we have learnt enough in the last twenty years to take action.

The aspirations that emerged from Rio have not been matched by commensurate actions, with the dangerous consequence that sustainability is now more distant than ever. We acknowledge the complexity of the situation in a multi-stakeholder world with different, sometimes opposing, interests. Nonetheless, current trajectories must be reversed immediately. Here, we offer three means for scientists to accelerate progress towards a sustainable future.

“First, all scientists, whether academic, government, or industry-based, must actively engage with civil society and decision-makers to convey the urgency of the global challenges that lay before us. The GYA will support efforts to bring scientific evidence to bear directly on the policy and decision-making processes. By mobilizing scientific knowledge we will also help communities understand how their choices may hinder or accelerate progress toward sustainable development goals.

“Second, obstacles to initiating this dialogue must be overcome within the scientific community itself. The Global Young Academy recognizes scientific excellence as a prerequisite to having a credible voice in such discussion. Yet, we are concerned that metrics of success for scientists typically discourage public engagement and outreach. This must change. Public engagement must be valued, and not seen as something best left to others.

“Third, we must foster scientific literacy in the broadest sense. The goal here is to ensure that citizens have the tools to engage in societal debate and make informed choices regarding the future of their communities. The Global Young Academy will work to transform scientific education from rote-learning to inquiry-based problem solving, at all levels from kindergarten through post-secondary education. An inquiry-based approach will illustrate how scientific discoveries are made and how past evidence catalyzes them. More transparency will build both public trust in scientific information and capacity to weigh evidence supporting competing positions in the transition to sustainable development.

“The world cannot spend another twenty years in further discussions about the path toward sustainability. Progress toward a sustainable future must accelerate, and it must be both inclusive and enduring. The time for action, commensurate with the immediacy and diversity of sustainability challenges, is right now. The Global Young Academy believes that scientists, and science, are fundamental to realizing the goals of sustainability. Rio+40 must be a celebration of progress.”