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Are We Getting Closer to Skynet?

Everybody knows the basic plot of Terminator, where an intelligent machine or machine network became so intelligent that its creator – mankind – was no longer able to control it and the machines took over power. This network is called Skynet in the movies. It was – according to the plot – supposed to destroy a big portion of mankind in 1997. Fortunately, this did not happen, but how far are we actually apart from something like this scenario happening in the future?

Since I am no expert in military technology and even more I am not included in confidential defense strategies, I cannot give a prediction from that point of view. But I can take a look at the increasing powers of machines. In the beginning of June 2014 a computer called Eugene programmed by Russian scientists was able to pass the Turing Test.[1] But let me begin with an explanation of this test. It was developed by British mathematician Alan Turing and is supposed to give an idea about the intelligence of computers compared to humans. The setup is as follows: A person is given a computer screen and a keyboard and he is asked to chat with another person/computer. There is no visual of acoustic interaction possible between the dialog partners. Every person is asked to convince its conversational partner that he is human and in the same way must find out if he is chatting with a human or a robot. If a computer is able to convince 30% of the humans that it is also human, the test is passed.

To come back to Eugene, how big is this passing of the Turing Test? Well, I think we don’t need to worry for now. Eugene was pretending to be a 13 year old Ukrainian boy for whom English is a second language.[2] Up until now, human interaction and conversations are still far too complex for machines to imitate. But the computers and programmers are getting better and better. And even if we will not end in a Terminator-like apocalypse, we might end up with other problems like increasing cybercrime that is harder to defeat. Think of spam for example. Nowadays it is mostly annoying when your spam filter does not sort out those unwanted mass emails. But you can do it within seconds since either the subject is revealing that it is spam or the language is enormously flawed. This might change in the future…

Andreas Neidlinger


[1] (last access 16.08.2014)

[2] (last access 16.08.2014)