Staff Reviews

Briefly Noted: Turing Triumph

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Computer programmers spar for the title of the Most Human Computer in an annual staging of the Turing Test, named after the pioneering computer scientist Alan Turing. Human judges chat with computers and people for five minutes, then try to decide which is which.

Less well known is a second award handed out at the same yearly event: the Most Human Human. In a somewhat self-indulgent but nonetheless fascinating book, the poet/geek Brian Christian describes his quest for the latter title. The Most Human Human (Doubleday) offers juicy, meandering digressions gleaned from Christian's months of preparation on topics as varied as the importance of the word um, the difficulty of programming "Barge-In-Able Conversational Dialogue Systems" for automated phone menus, the epic chess match in which IBM's Deep Blue defeated grandmaster Garry Kasparov, and the human condition's resemblance to "a monkey and a robot holding hands." —Katherine Mangu-Ward