Reading Uni's cybernetic media strumpet Kev "Captain Cyborg" Warwick is poised to put six computer programmes to ultimate test - that devised by Alan Turing in which the machine must engage in convincingly human banter, thereby heralding "the most significant breakthrough in artificial intelligence since the IBM supercomputer Deep Blue beat world chess champion Garry Kasparov in 1997".
Well, that's how the Observer breathlessly describes the possible outcome of next Sunday's dateline with computing destiny, when university volunteers will chew the fat with Alice, Brother Jerome, Elbot, Eugene Goostman, Jabberwacky and Ultra Hal.
Specifically, the carbon-based "interrogators" will face a computer screen, one half of which will be "operated" by an unseen fellow human, the other by one of the contending programmes. The interrogators will engage in simultaneous five-minute text chats with both, after which they'll have to decide who's who. Warwick reckons a programme "needs only to make 30 per cent or more of the interrogators unsure of its identity to be deemed as having passed the test, based on Turing's own criteria".
Warwick explained: "I would say now that machines are conscious, but in a machine-like way, just as you see a bat or a rat is conscious like a bat or rat, which is different from a human. I think the reason Alan Turing set this game up was that maybe to him consciousness was not that important; it's more the appearance of it, and this test is an important aspect of appearance."
At stake is not just a huge evolutionary leap in machine conciousness, whereby your PC suddenly acquires self-awareness and then locks you out of your flat, refusing to open the door while declaring "I'm sorry Dave, I can't do that", but also "an 18-carat gold medal and $100,000 offered by the Loebner Prize in Artificial Intelligence".
And in case you're wondering just how close machines are to achieving human-style intelligence, the Observer concludes by inviting readers to decide which of two Warwick conversations is with a human, and which with an "artificial conversational entity". It's a tricky one, and no messing... ®
Thanks to Andrew Macdonald for the tip-off.