The Turing Test

In 1950 Alan Turing devised a test to determine how well machines were able to imitate a human. An evaluator asked a machine and another human a series of questions. If the evaluator wasn’t able to differentiate which responses were given by the human and which were coming from the machine, then the machine passed the test. It sounds easy, but even now in 2019 with the advances in machine learning and AI, the odds are still stacked against the machines – we humans seem to be quite adept at knowing our Robert’s from our R2D2’s. But this hasn’t stopped people from trying.  

We conduct our own Turing tests every time we start a live chat session online. Chatbots have been ‘trained’ to mimic human customer service representatives. Initially they were clunky and could only respond to very particular lines of questioning. However as the machines continue to learn and build on every interaction they have, their success at sounding more human improves.

If you can train a computer to answer on a human’s behalf then why couldn’t a machine or bot answer a survey acting as a human respondent. The problem for us in the research industry is, you can. We rely on hearing the thoughts and opinions of humans to give us and our clients guidance on their business decisions. We pay people for their thoughts and it’s the reason why bots are becoming more prevalent. Why complete one survey when you can teach a bot to complete 10. As researchers we’ve had to do start doing our own Turing Tests every time we analyse our survey data as over the past couple of years we’ve seen ‘survey bots’ imitating human responses for financial gain.

To halt the rise of the machines, we’ve developed ways to question the bots in our surveys that has allowed us to determine the bot from the human. Specific patterns of responses, the types of open-ended responses provided, how long the survey took to complete, amongst others. Our own Turing Test has been able to establish the bots from the real human responses to leave only the valid responses that we can be confident of. It’s just another way that at The Interpreters we work tirelessly to deliver the highest quality insight to our clients. 

By Chris Binney

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