Next Sunday, six computer programs will answer questions posed by human volunteers at the University of Reading in a bid to become the first recognised "thinking" machine. If any program succeeds, it is likely to be hailed as the most significant breakthrough in artificial intelligence since the IBM supercomputer Deep Blue beat world chess champion Garry Kasparov in 1997. It could also raise profound questions about whether a computer has the potential to be "conscious" - and if humans should have the 'right' to switch it off. [...]
The test will be carried out by human "interrogators", each sitting at a computer with a split screen: one half will be operated by an unseen human, the other by a program. The interrogators will then begin separate, simultaneous text-based conversations with both of them on any subjects they choose. After five minutes they will be asked to judge which is which. If they get it wrong, or are not sure, the program will have fooled them.