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10 January 2013updated 22 Oct 2020 3:55pm

The day Watson the super computer learned to swear

Could this actually be a breakthrough?

By New Statesman

IBM has been trying to get a super computer (Watson) to pass the Turing test – a test that works out how intelligent – or human like – a machine is.

But when they tried to teach Watson some phrases from Urban Dictionary, they accidentally taught him how to swear. Then they couldn’t get him to stop. Here’s an extract from an interview with Ed Brown, that appeared in Fortune magazine.

But Watson couldn’t distinguish between polite language and profanity — which the Urban Dictionary is full of. Watson picked up some bad habits from reading Wikipedia as well. In tests it even used the word “bullshit” in an answer to a researcher’s query.

Ultimately, Brown’s 35-person team developed a filter to keep Watson from swearing and scraped the Urban Dictionary from its memory. But the trial proves just how thorny it will be to get artificial intelligence to communicate naturally. Brown is now training Watson as a diagnostic tool for hospitals. No knowledge of OMG required.

It sounds like they made a breakthrough. The Turing test supposedly tests artificial intelligence – but this is a misnomer, as it actually measures for all human behaviours, not  just “intelligent” ones. Points are given for idiosyncratic behaviour: susceptibility to insults, temptation to lie, and even typing errors – (the first Loebner winner’s victory was due partly to its ability to “imitate human typing errors”).

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Picking up swearing a little too easily? Responding to a supposedly straight question with “bullshit”? Sounds like Watson’s becoming more human by the minute.

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