I spent a year in Boston in 1980 and 1981 on a one year contract working for the State of Massachusetts. I provided expertise in the DMS1100 data base management system on Univac 1100 computer systems. In the course of my duties I discovered the Univac computer language “MACRO,” which was bundled with DMS1100. Input for a MACRO program is text streams. In an initial declarative section of a MACRO program, “tokens” are defined as strings of characters. The procedure section consists of a collection of “macros.” These are subroutines each of which is headed by a pattern of tokens. As the input text stream is read by a program it is tokenized. When a pattern of tokens in the input stream matches a pattern defined for a macro, that macro is activated. MACRO is recursive and it allows associative subscripting.
For me, MACRO was a revelation. MACRO’s ability to create and match patterns of tokens seemed ideal for natural language analysis. I began to plan how I could use MACRO to develop an AI system of my own. I thought about associative subscripting. How could I use the technique for natural language analysis? Possibilities presented themselves, almost without limit. I decided then, and still think today, that thought processes are associative, and that an associative language, rather than a list processing one, will be needed to create machine intelligence.
My contract expired. I returned to the University of Maryland Baltimore County (UMBC), and to my position as assistant director of computing. The University’s Univac was scheduled for removal, and MACRO was available only for it. I could not find a substitute available on any computer system to which I had access. Although I hoped to work on AI, in the end I did nothing. (I later learned that there are comparable languages available for other computer systems.)
Although I did not create an AI system, my thoughts about how I might use MACRO to create one gave rise to another idea. I had, of course, read about Alan Turing’s famous test. In the course of my plans to develop an AI system, I had the Turing Test in mind as a criterion. I soon realized that even if I were to succeed in developing a computer that could pass Turing’s Test, I had no venue available in which to prove it. I thought: “Well, why not establish a Turing Test contest?” That is how I thought of the idea. Now here are three reasons why I actually implemented it.
1. My primary purpose was to develop the Turing Test itself. By the time I thought of my prize, Turing’s article proposing the test was decades old. AI scientists and philosophers regularly discussed the test, yet no one had taken steps to implement it. (I was misquoted by Computerworld. I said that “no one was doing anything about the Turing Test, not AI.”) The initial Loebner Prize contest was the first time that the Turing Test had ever been formally tried. This in itself justified the endeavour. It also introduced the Turing Test to a wide public, and stimulated interest in it. To my knowledge, no one had asked, let alone answered, the many important questions about the Turing Test which must eventually be solved. The title of Dr. ShieberÕs article is proof to me that this contest will advance the study of the Turing Test . “To see something once is better than to be told a thousands times” is the old Chinese saying.
2. Related to my desire to develop the Turing Test was my desire to advance AI. I have, since adolescence, been interested in the field. When I was in high school, I thought that computers and robots should do all work. I called this philosophy “automated parasitism.” I was told this was impossible. To build a computer as complex as the human brain would require a computer as large as the Empire State Building, and it would require all the water of Niagara Falls to cool. Today, I remain an unrepentant utopian. I want to see total unemployment. That, for me, is the ultimate goal of AI and automation. (The problem is to design a society that can equitably distribute the fruits of automation among its members.)
I believe that this contest will advance AI and serve as a tool to measure the state of the art. As time passes we shall measure the advances in the field. For this reason I have made two stipulations regarding the contest: (a) The contest must be held annually and (b) The prize must be awarded if there is at least one entry. The certainty of the award of a prize each year is the inducement. The contest must be dependable. Each contestant must understand that he is competing against other entrants, not against someoneÕs idea of the perfect program. I am not worried that the winning entries in early years are primitive. Their inadequacies are incentives for others to enter the contest.
Shieber opines that the contest is premature. He feels that because of our early stage of knowledge of AI, research efforts will be wasted and misguided. He speculates on an imaginary prize, prematurely announced, that is directed at developing flight. “Springs!,” he says, that is what everybody will use for flight because there is no time to study the airfoil. I have two comments. The first is that Dr. Shieber’s argument (study springs because there is no time to study airfoils) is precisely why I have insisted that there be an annual contest with a prize awarded every year. There will be time to consider long term goals and there will be a reward each year.
My second comment has to do with Mozart’s backside. When Mozart rode to Vienna in 1781 he wrote complaining of the pain the mail coach inflicted on his backside. (Mozart in Vienna,V.Braunbehrens, trans T. Bell Grove Weidenfield, NY 1990, p 17 [most of what think you know about Mozart is wrong unless you have read this book]) This was a result, I must suppose, in part from poor suspension of the coach. The study of elasticity, stress, and strain did not result in a swift and straight arrival at understanding. Suppose a concerted effort had been made, early on, to fly using springs. Perhaps the concepts of stress and strain would have been invented sooner, along with advances in spring technology that would have been a boon to humanity, and MozartÕs buttocks. There is probably still room for improvements in springs. [For an interesting discussion of the development of the concepts of stress and strain, see J E Gordon, Structures, or Why things Don’t Fall Down, Da Capo Press, NY, 1978] Research would be a boring, indeed, if every effort resulted in answers only to the question or problem intended. Perhaps my prize will not lead down the straightest path to AI. It will prove useful, nonetheless, perhaps in very unexpected ways.
3. The third purpose of the prize was to perform a social experiment. By training I am a sociologist, with an interest in methodology and mathematical sociology. Chaos theory has interested me from my first exposure to it. Chaos theory posits the existence of non-linear systems which are “highly sensitive to initial conditions.” The weather, for instance, may be such a system. Indeed, it may be so sensitive to small perturbations that a butterfly flapping its wings over New York can determine the weather over Paris two weeks later. This is known as the “butterfly effect.” I believed that chaos theory was applicable to many social phenomena, including, I hypothesized, the field of AI. I thought the years of discussion of the Turing Test and the years of effort to create AI systems had created a powerful “potential social energy” which “energized” the field of AI. If my hypothesis was correct, the time was overripe to implement a prize for the Turing Test. It might only require a minimal effort by one individual to act as the catalyst. Whoever first proposed the contest would act as the seed around whom this potential social energy would focus. Hence The Loebner Prize; I have always wanted to be a social butterfly.
Finally, there is a Loebner Prize because of the hard work and diligent efforts of many people, especially the contest’s director Dr. Robert Epstein, the members of the Loebner Prize Committee, and of course those who submitted entries.