A Brief Biography of Hugh Loebner – Sponsor of the Loebner Prize

Last Updated on February 11, 2021 by Sean B

The development of Artificial Intelligence and chatbot technology in social, political, economic, and contemporary culture is not due merely to the work of brilliant computer scientists. It is also due to the work of people who sponsored those programs and companies, helping them receive attention from the rest of the world.

Whether someone likes it or not, money has a lot of say in what product or invention receives attention and critical acclaim from the rest of the scientific community. The reason is that for a concept to be realized, it takes some form of sponsorship.

This blog will talk about a personality that contributed to AI programs’ growth by patents and sponsorship. This personality is the American inventor Hugh Loebner. We will briefly discuss the life, education, and contributions of Hugh Loebner towards computer science.

Early Life and Education

Hugh Loebner was born on the 26th of March 1942. Hugh Loebner then received a Ph.D. in demography from the University of Massachusetts Amherst, Amherst. Hugh Loebner got divorced from his wife, Elaine Loebner.

After the divorce, Hugh Loebner owned Crown Industries in New York City. Crown Industries was a manufacturing business of brass fittings and crowd control stanchion. His crown industries also were the primary sponsor of the Loebner Prize in the US.

Hugh was a passionate academic, an inventor, a sponsor, a campaigner, and an outspoken philanthropist. Among his chief inspirations was the British mathematician, logician, and computer scientist, Alan Mathison Turing.

Career

Throughout his career, Hugh Loebner has been very outspoken about his views and academic goals. Hugh was never afraid of taking risks throughout his career and has held six patents in the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO).

As an inventor and an academic sponsor, Hugh Loebner’s most significant contribution towards Artificial Intelligence and computer science is the Loebner Prize’s sponsorship, an annually held reward show based on Alan Turing’s Turing Test.

Inspiration for The Loebner Prize

Alan Turing’s ideas and concepts, especially the question about mechanistic consciousness, deeply inspired Hugh Loebner. And this inspiration led him to develop the Loebner prize.

Alan Turing first asked this thought-provoking question in his 1950 paper published by the title, “Computing Machinery and Intelligence.” In the following words, Alan Turing expressed this question, “I propose to consider the question, ‘Can machines think?'”.

This question sparked numerous debates in the academic spheres related to Artificial Intelligence and continues to do so. This question has the utmost significance for the discussion around the nature of consciousness and the philosophy of Artificial Intelligence.

Realization of The Imitation Game

Alan Turing’s Imitation game fascinated Hugh Loebner, and Hugh then decided to apply this game in his annual Loebner prize award show, which was an embodiment of Turing’s ideas. Even though the Loebner Prize was not the first application of the Turing’s test, it was nevertheless the most significant and popular one.

After Alan Turing proposed mechanistic consciousness, he envisioned a test to ponder upon his questions. Turing called this test the imitation game, which is now known among academics as the Turing test.

Human judges hold conversations with other humans and intelligent machines designed to generate human-like responses in the Turing’s test. The job of the judge is to guess the correct nature of the participant he is conversing with.

All the participants will be separated from one another, and the judges who are taking the test would be aware that one of the participants they are conversing with is a machine. All conversations would be carried out using a keyboard in text-only communication.

If the judge can point out that the person he is conversing with is a machine, then by default, the machine fails the Turing test. However, if the machine can trick the human judge into thinking that the participant he is conversing with is a human, then the machine passes the Turing Test.

The job of this Turing test is to test the ability of a machine to mimic human behavior and patterns to trick the judge into thinking that he is talking to a human. Turing intended to find a computer that was smart enough to do so.

The Turing test’s results do not depend upon the bot to give correct answers; instead, they answer consistently with usual human behavior. The Turing Test was widely influential in academic spheres by the time Hugh Loebner adapted it into his annual award show.

Sponsorship of The Loebner Prize

The Loebner Prize was the Turing Test’s embodiment and was carried out using the rules and regulations common to a standard Turing test. Judges converse with both human participants and intelligent bots via a panel and a keyboard, and their job is to guess who is who.

Hugh Loebner announced a reward for the computer programs that were most successful in mimicking human behavior and convincing the judges into thinking that they were talking to a human participant.

Hugh Loebner’s intention towards implementing the Turing test through an award show was to spark competition among Artificial Intelligence developers and computer scientists and advance research in Artificial Intelligence and computer science.

He further said that he wanted to start his Loebner prize because, despite 40 years of academic discussion and debates, no one had taken steps to implement the Turing test practically. In this way, Hugh Loebner’s award show served as a platform to further AI research and chatterbots.

Hugh Loebner launched the Loebner prize in 1990 in conjunction with the Cambridge Center for Behavioral Studies, Massachusetts, United States. The first-ever Loebner prize show raised numerous debates and discussions both in the press and the academic circles.

A mindless program that was far divorced from intelligence won the first award show. Even though it did not possess intelligence that can rival the new competitors, the program did prove to be successful in tricking the judges into thinking that they were talking to a human.

This mindless program was called whimsical conversation or a PC therapist and was developed by Joseph Weintraub. PC therapist bot would take part in this competition numerous times and win the Loebner prize 4 times.

The typing errors made by the program caused the mistaken identification that led to the program’s victory. Since judges thought that only a human could have made those typing errors, the program won.

This sheds additional light on the problem that the bots that mimic human behavior do not have to be highly intelligent to pass the test; rather, they need to be just as clumsy and fallible as an average human participant would be.

The Prizes

Since its conception, Hugh Loebner has offered the Loebner prize in the form of three prizes. Those are bronze, silver, and gold. The bronze award originally was worth $2000. After that, the prize was raised to $3000 in 2005, $2,250 in 2006, and $3000 in 2008.

Along with the bronze prize, silver and gold prizes were also awarded; however, since the prize show’s conception, only the bronze medals have been won by participants. The silver and gold medals are supposed to be one-time-only.

The silver prize is worth $25,000 and will be awarded to the computer to convince the judge to think that he is talking to a real human and convincing the judge into thinking that the human participant is the computer program.

The gold medal is worth $100,000 and will be awarded to the computer that can convince the judges into thinking that they are talking to a real human and, along with that, can also decipher and understand the textual, visual, and auditory inputs.

Hugh Loebner also was very quick to point out that unlike the gold medals awarded in Olympic sports that are silver with a thin layer of gold, the gold medal offered in the Loebner Prize show was solid gold.

Once the gold medal is achieved, the Loebner prize will be concluded. However, despite several attempts, intelligent computer programs have yet to reach a silver or gold medal.

The Emergence of Mitsuku

A discussion about the Loebner prize cannot go on without the mention of the Mitsuku  Chatbot created by Steve Worswick. Mitsuku is an AI chatbot program developed at the Pandorabots platform and has won the Loebner prize a record 5 times.

Mitsuku is also the only chatterbot to win the Loebner Prize 4 times in a row. Mitsuku is now considered by experts as the most human-like bot globally and has been declared a victor when she went toe-to-toe with Apple Inc’s virtual assistant, Siri.

Changing the Rules

In 2019, the format of the prize show was changed entirely. It was decided that instead of having judges on the panel, the performance of the bots would be judged by the public, and the competition will not include any human participants.

Death and Legacy

Hugh Loebner passed away due to natural causes on the 4th of December 2016. Hugh Loebner’s contributions to the fields of computer science, artificial intelligence, and of course chatbots have been incredible, and thankfully, the Loebner Prize continues to take place.

Hugh was a colorful character, with a wide array of colorful shirts, and he will be missed.

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