The most human human

most human human

(Photo credit: The most human human written by Brian Christian, published by Penguin)

(Image shows the title of the book and a cartoon picture of a robot)

Telling the difference between humans and computers used to be easy.

But artificial intelligence is now so advanced that it is capable of behaving, and even thinking, in ways that have long been considered to be exclusive to humans.

In ‘The most human human’, Brian Christian talks to the world’s leading artificial intelligences, battling against them in the renowned Turing Test competition, in order to find out what they’re capable of – and what makes us unique.

The test is named after British mathematician Alan Turing, one of the founders of computer science, who in 1950, just as the computer was being invented, was already considering the philosophical implications of these new machines. Specifically, can machines think?

Turing proposed a practical test: assemble a panel of scientists to have five-minute long text conversations via computer terminals, sending and receiving text messages. The catch is that the judges don’t know whether the messages appearing on their screens are coming from real people, or from computer programs pretending to be real people.

Turing famously predicted that by the year 2000, computer software would be fooling the judges 30% of the time.

The annual Loebner Prize held since the early 1990’s has put Turing’s theory to the test, and although this famous millennial prediction did not come to pass, at the 2008 contest, the leading computer program came shy of that mark by just a single vote.

Brian Christian decided to get involved in the 2009 contest, as one of the human “confederates” who talk with the judges and try to convince them that we are, in fact, human.

The computer program that does the best job each year of persuading the judges that it is human wins what’s called the Most Human Computer award.

But there’s also another award for the human that does the best job of persuading the panel: the Most Human Human award.

This is a funny, inspiring, and intelligent book. Drawing on science, philosophy, literature and the arts, and touching on aspects of life as diverse as language, work, school, chess, speed-dating, art, video games, psychiatry and the law, The Most Human Human shows that far from being a threat to our humanity, computers provide a better means than ever before of understanding exactly what it is.

Further details of The most human human can be found on the main catalogue, available in ‘Catalogues’ on the Library’s website.