Artificial intransigence

June 24th, 2004 by Ben Goldacre in bad science, bbc, dangers, nanniebots, new scientist | 2 Comments »

Ben Goldacre
Thursday June 24, 2004
The Guardian

· You may remember Jim Wightman. He claimed to have written a piece of chat software that could pass itself off as a real child in a chatroom, and identify internet paedophiles by behaviour. To say this was thought highly dubious is an understatement – the software, if it existed, would have been 10 years ahead of everything written by huge teams of AI academics; he offered to let us see the software working, and then refused; and the NSPCC and Barnardo’s distanced themselves from his ideas about monitoring children’s activities himself with no child protection background. Embarrassingly, New Scientist accepted his claims uncritically, and the BBC and others followed suit, although New Scientist did, after two pieces here, remove their glowing article about him from their website.

· Now they’re back with Wightman. Here’s what happened. New Scientist visited Jim at home with two AI academics to chat with the program. In previous “test conversations”, over the web, without experimenters being able to see that the computer was not connected to any others, the program gave highly sophisticated answers after a suspiciously long delay (almost as if someone was typing them). This time it instantly gave rubbish computer-generated responses, nothing like those in the previous transcripts. In fact, it gave the very same answers that Alice, an old and not very sophisticated AI program, written by somebody else, not Wightman, gave in subsequent tests. Then Wightman offered to show them the code … but suddenly, and inexplicably, the power to Jim’s whole house went off. The test was over. Imagine.

· Did New Scientist finally give it up? No. “New Scientist can still provide no definitive proof of Wightman’s claims, but looks forward to a return visit when the complete ChatNannies software is available for testing.” Please. Did they ask Wightman about his unlikely claim to have a seven-figure offer from an American corporation which had “full independent testing performed on the AI and are confident of its validity and effecacy[sic]“? He was apparently quite capable of giving them a proper demonstration. Did they quiz Wightman on his previous false claims about writing software, or any of the other issues Bad Science raised? No. To those of us brought up loving the great institution that is New Scientist it is, as Tibor Fischer said, a bit like bouncing out of the classroom at breaktime, only to catch your favourite uncle masturbating in the school playground.

If you like what I do, and you want me to do more, you can: buy my books Bad Science and Bad Pharma, give them to your friends, put them on your reading list, employ me to do a talk, or tweet this article to your friends. Thanks! ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

2 Responses

  1. longyan said,

    November 6, 2009 at 2:56 am

    It is no use doing what ugg bailey button you like ugg boots ; you have got to like ugg classic cardy what you do  My philosophy of ugg lo pro button life is work . When work is a pleasure , life is joy ! When work is duty ,ugg knightsbridge life is slavery .Work banishes those three great evils : boredom , vice, and poverty.

  2. wayscj said,

    November 21, 2009 at 7:17 am

    ed hardy ed hardy
    ed hardy clothing ed hardy clothing
    ed hardy shop ed hardy shop
    christian audigier christian audigier
    ed hardy cheap ed hardy cheap
    ed hardy outlet ed hardy outlet
    ed hardy sale ed hardy sale
    ed hardy store ed hardy store
    ed hardy mens ed hardy mens
    ed hardy womens ed hardy womens
    ed hardy kids ed hardy kids ed hardy kids

You must be logged in to post a comment.