Dr. Hugh Loebner set up this competition in 1991 as an application of the Turing test for artificial intelligence. Each year a number of programs compete to appear most human in their response before a panel of judges (the judges are typically psychology professors). The interaction is like instant messaging: each judge types a message to the ‘chatbot’ in a pane on the screen, and back comes a reply.
How convincing is the state-of the art in chatbots? Well, the 2005 winner was a program called Jabberwacky. This program is on the Internet here and anyone can ‘converse’ with it. Here is my attempt (I'm 'user').
Jabberwacky: Do you live in Chicago?
User: I live in England.
Jabberwacky: Is england full of programmers?
User: It's normally full of rain.
Jabberwacky: Well what are you up to?
User: I'm writing a book.
Jabberwacky: About e-mail addresses?
User: You seem obsessed with computer topics!
Jabberwacky: Bots and maze theory in data structures, are our next upgrade in tech.
User: How did you win the Loebner prize?
Jabberwacky: No. But then you didn't either!
It looks like Loebner will be waiting a while to award his $25,000 prize to a system judges are incapable of distinguishing from a human being!