The Turing test, developed by Alan Turing in 1950, is a test of a machine’s ability to exhibit intelligent behavior equivalent to, or indistinguishable from, that of a human. Turing proposed that a human evaluator would judge natural language conversations between a human and a machine designed to generate human-like responses. The evaluator would be aware that one of the two partners in conversation is a machine, and all participants would be separated from one another. The conversation would be limited to a text-only channel such as a computer keyboard and screen so the result would not depend on the machine’s ability to render words as speech. If the evaluator cannot reliably tell the machine from the human, the machine is said to have passed the test. The test results do not depend on the machine’s ability to give correct answers to questions, only how closely its answers resemble those a human would give.
The test was introduced by Turing in his 1950 paper, “Computing Machinery and Intelligence”, while working at the University of Manchester (Turing, 1950; p. 460). It opens with the words: “I propose to consider the question, ‘Can machines think?'” Because “thinking” is difficult to define, Turing chooses to “replace the question by another, which is closely related to it and is expressed in relatively unambiguous words.” Turing describes the new form of the problem in terms of a three-person game called the “imitation game”, in which an interrogator asks questions of a man and a woman in another room in order to determine the correct sex of the two players. Turing’s new question is: “Are there imaginable digital computers which would do well in the imitation game?” This question, Turing believed, is one that can actually be answered. In the remainder of the paper, he argued against all the major objections to the proposition that “machines can think”.
Since Turing first introduced his test, it has proven to be both highly influential and widely criticised, and it has become an important concept in the philosophy of artificial intelligence. Some of these criticisms, such as John Searle’s Chinese room, are controversial in their own right.