17 April, 2021

Can Machines Talk?

And not just like a parrot? This is the ultimate test of AI. Language technology will change our lives, and we must build a future that doesn’t speak to us only in English.

Can Machines Talk?

I propose to consider the question, ‘Can machines think?’

– Alan Turing

In ordinary parlance, we often say of an unc­ommonly intelligent person: “So and so is like a computer.” But at the story’s beginning, it was the other way round. The challenge was to build a machine that could be like a human in the most elementary aspect possible: think, for instance. Even if not deeply, like Rodin’s Le Penseur, at least like a dew-fresh two-year-old. It still is, arguably, quite the unbreachable frontier. That deceptively simple question up there was posed, almost like a whisper that would set off a storm, by a tragic and enigmatic figure now universally seen to have founded both computer science and Artificial Intelligence (AI)—the British mathematician Alan Turing. Set out in his seminal 1950 paper in Mind, the idea of proving that a mechanical dev­ice could, even hypothetically, think like a human was as profoundly unsettling as it was exhilarating—for philosophers and...

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