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Loebner Prize Competition

The Loebner Prize is an annual competition in artificial intelligence that awards prizes to the chatterbot considered by the judges to be the most human-like. The format of the competition is that of a standard Turing test. A human judge poses text questions to a computer program and a human being via computer. Based upon the answers, the judge must decide which is which. In 2008 a variety of judges, including experts and non-experts, adults and children, native and non-native English speakers participated in the University of Reading hosted contest.

The contest began in 1990 by Hugh Loebner in conjunction with the Cambridge Center for Behavioral Studies, Massachusetts and United States. It has since been associated with Flinders University, Dartmouth College, the Science Museum in London, and most recently the University of Reading. In 2004 and 2005, it was held in Loebner’s apartment in New York City.

Within the field of artificial intelligence, the Loebner Prize is somewhat controversial; the most prominent critic, Marvin Minsky, has called it a publicity stunt that does not help the field along.

There is little doubt that Turing would have been disappointed by the state of play at the end of the twentieth century.

On the one hand, participants in the Loebner Prize Competition an annual event in which computer programmers are submitted to the Turing Test come nowhere near the standard that Turing envisaged. (A quick look at the transcripts of the participants for the past decade reveals that the entered programs are all easily detected by a range of not-very-subtle lines of questioning.)

On the other hand, major players in the field often claim that the Loebner Prize Competition is an embarrassment precisely because we are so far from having a computer programme that could carry out a decent conversation for a period of five minutes see, for example, Shieber (1994). (The programs entered in the Loebner Prize Competition are designed solely with the aim of winning the minor prize of best competitor for the year, with no thought that the embodied strategies would actually yield something capable of passing the Turing Test.)

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