CRF Blog

Most Human Human

by Bill Hayes

Each year, the Loebner Prize Competition looks at whether people, by conversing over a computer, can tell whether they are talking to a machine or to a human. Two prizes are given out—one to the machine that fools the most people (“Most Human Computer”) and the other to the human who others recognize most often as a human (“Most Human Human”). In 2009, Brian Christian set out to win, and did win the Most Human Human award. He tells about the competition and what he learned in The Most Human Human: What Talking with Computers Teaches Us About What It Means to Be Alive.

From the New York Times Book Review:

What Christian learns along the way is that if machines win the imitation game as often as they do, it’s not because they’re getting better at acting human; it’s because we’re getting worse.

Take, for example, the loathsome infinite regress of telephone customer service. You pummel your way through a blockade of menu options only to find that the live operator, once you reach her, talks exactly like the automated voice you’re trying to escape. And why is this? Because … that’s how operators are trained to talk. Nor is this emulation of the electronic limited to the commercial realm. In chess, … the “victory” of the computer program Deep Blue over Garry Kasparov had the paradoxical effect of convincing a whole generation of young chess players that the route to a grandmaster title was through rote memorization of famous matches. Whereas in the past these chess players might have dreamed of growing up to be Kasparov, master of strategy, now they dream of growing up to be Deep Blue, master of memory.