Alan Turing proposed a test inspired by a party game known as the 'Imitation Game', in which a man and a woman go into separate rooms, and guests try to tell them apart by writing a series of questions and reading the typewritten answers the man and the woman send back.

This activity involves students writing a series of questions for online 'robots'.

Preparation

Make sure the two websites listed below are working OK before you go into the lesson. Also do some research on Alan Turing if you plan to get students to use google to find information about him.

Procedure

  • Ask your students the following questions in open class:
    • Do you think a computer will be invented that can interact with a human without the human realising that it’s a computer?
    • How well do you think computers cope now with language?
    • Have you ever used a translation tool? Have you found it useful/ accurate? Has the translation been good enough to use?
  • Ask your students whether they have ever heard of Alan Turing. Say that they are going to do a computer based activity and that their first task is to use the internet to find out who Alan Turing is and what the following have in connection with him.
    • The Enigma Code (he cracked it)
    • poisoned apple (he killed himself with one)
    • Gordon Brown  (he reclassified him as a war hero in 2009)
    • Steve Jobs (it’s rumoured that the Apple logo was created as a tribute to Alan Turing but Steve Jobs denies this)
    • The Turing Test (he proposed that we should not ask whether machines are intelligent, or can think, but whether they can act like a person).
  • Then in preparation for the computer based activity ask students to work in pairs or groups (the same pairs or groups as they will work on the computers) and think of five questions they would ask the computer to find out if there was a human answering them or whether the answers were coming from a robot/the computer. The only rule is they are not allowed to ask whether the 'person' is a robot/computer.
  • Monitor as students work to help them to formulate their ideas and questions. Take note of any problems areas such as question formation, phrases and vocabulary and spend some time going through these as a whole class so that students learn new language from others in the class and begin the computer task with correct questions.
  • Then ask students to work alone and to speculate what the answer is going to be. Again go through any problem areas. For me this is the most important point of the lesson as this is where fluency practice can be used as an opportunity for students to learn new language, understand why they make the mistakes they do and improve both accuracy and fluency.
  • Students then follow this link: http://alice.pandorabots.com and http://www.cooldictionary.com/splotchy.mpl and start their chat with the person/robot. They note the answers to the five questions and then carry on the conversation wherever it takes them after that. Students always enjoy talking to the robot and so you just need to set a time limit and allow them to carry on until the time is up. The robot will often use quite sophisticated language so help where possible and ask students to note any words or phrases for later class use.
  • After the activity ask students to share their experiences talking to Alice and Splotchy and see how convincing the robot (or 'bot') was. Were there any questions it coped well with? Anything it couldn’t cope with at all? What strategies did the robot use to deal with questions it maybe didn’t understand? What happened if the students didn’t get the English correct in their questions or responses?
  • To finish off, go through the Alan Turing questions. Do you agree with Turing that whether a machine can produce the same results as a human is more important than whether it is intelligent? Should computers have 'rights'?

By Stuart Wiffin and Helen Gibbons

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