Correcting the bad reporting

I complained about the credulous media coverage of the so-called landmark success at the Turing test yesterday. That was the first flush of press release regurgitation; fortunately, there’s been a strong rebound of sensible journalism now. Gary Marcus talks about failing the Turing test, Scott Aaronson has a chat with Eugene Goostman, and Mike Masnick really rips it a new one.

Oh, and the biggest red flag of all. The event was organized by Kevin Warwick at Reading University. If you’ve spent any time at all in the tech world, you should automatically have red flags raised around that name. Warwick is somewhat infamous for his ridiculous claims to the press, which gullible reporters repeat without question. He’s been doing it for decades. All the way back in 2000, we were writing about all the ridiculous press he got for claiming to be the world’s first "cyborg" for implanting a chip in his arm. There was even a — since taken down — Kevin Warwick Watch website that mocked and categorized all of his media appearances in which gullible reporters simply repeated all of his nutty claims. Warwick had gone quiet for a while, but back in 2010, we wrote about how his lab was getting bogus press for claiming to have "the first human infected with a computer virus." The Register has rightly referred to Warwick as both "Captain Cyborg" and a "media strumpet" and has long been chronicling his escapades in exaggerating bogus stories about the intersection of humans and computers for many, many years.

This is what has happened to journalism: the competent get fired to make room for cheap hacks who can disgorge press releases without thinking, and the qualified experts have to follow along behind, sweeping up the crap.


  1. says

    I always thought that if an observer couldn’t tell the difference between a hidden human and computer there were only three possibilities:
         the computer was really intelligent
         the human was really stupid
         the observer was really a blithering twit.

  2. says

    If epistemology is taught in the future there will be uni level courses on Rupert Murdoch who made his fortune with the realization that you can catch more flies with shit than with sugar.
    Who cares about information, the news is a product like rutabagas and mousetraps and the way to selling more product is to make it as attractive as possible.
    Right now here in Canada our Republican Prime Minister is slowly eliminating the CBC arguing that it isn’t making money and couldn’t it turn a profit if only we gave it to Saint Rupert.

  3. karley jojohnston says

    An overexcitable cyborg cries wolf and is constantly playing to be a reporter.

    Sounds like a G-rated sci-fi family comedy.

  4. MHiggo says

    No time for fact-checking or any of that “actual journalism” nonsense. Everything needs to be up on the Web now or we run the risk of not being FIRST! (As though people remember whose post was up five minutes before someone else’s.) We can fix any mistakes later.

    The new fourth estate – post more, post faster, cost less. I remember when I was proud to do this for a living.

  5. gussnarp says

    As soon as I saw the first headline saying “Computer Beats Turing Test!” my immediate reaction was “No, it hasn’t”. I knew right away there had to be much more to the story, and of course there is.

    I’ve always been a little confused, frankly, as to what exactly the Turing test is and I think that’s because the simplified version we usually hear about is rather vague. But at the heart of it, the key is that a computer can fool observers into thinking it’s a human. The 30% figure isn’t the important part, the important part is the fooling. And if you’re setting up a number of conditions for your test to make it easier to fool the observers, you’re entirely missing the point of the test and certainly haven’t passed it.

    And I’m hardly an expert in any way. This shouldn’t be hard. They could have at least gone with the “question mark that implies a no” headline: “Did a Computer Pass the Turing Test?”

  6. thepianoman2020 says

    Why would fooling a human through conversation be any evidence of intelligence?

    This is just pure sensational journalism. Report on something that most average people won’t fully understand and this is what you get. Anybody with an iota of knowledge regarding computers, human intelligence, or language should look at this with much skepticism.

  7. says

    David Gerard hit the nail on the head in the first comment of the previous thread. I remember the earlier, bizarre claims about ‘cyborg’ circuit implants, and it seems his schtick is still recognisable years later and fooling the gullible press.

  8. kevinv says

    This is actually the Warwick test of journalists – can they tell tech bullshit better than a 13 year old. They’ve failed.

  9. twas brillig (stevem) says

    If epistemology is taught in the future there will be uni level courses on Rupert Murdoch who made his fortune with the realization that you can catch more flies with shit than with sugar.

    I hope they would use him as a Bad Example, of how it is possible to sell opinions by calling them facts, and calling every fact a lie. And then discuss the psychology behind why he was successful at doing so. ;-( but I’m just an idealistic optimist, that will never happen, we’re lost in Murdoch cesspool of misinformation…

  10. says

    Lots of things ‘pass’ the Turing test if someone is inattentive or a dipshit with no skill in asking complex or difficult questions (aka the average reporter).

  11. gussnarp says

    I’m a cyborg, especially when running, because I have a sophisticated computer attached to my arm conveying both entertainment and up to date position, speed, and time information to my brain through my ears.

  12. Fukuda says


    Why would fooling a human through conversation be any evidence of intelligence?

    As richardelguru says at @1, the null hypothesis tends to be his third option.

    Joking aside, it’s an interesting tool to test human cognition. How and under which conditions do humans recognize intelligence? And animals?

    The original reasoning behind the test… Well… An indistinguishable simulation is still not the same as the real mechanism, especially when they are not even based on the same functioning principles(!)

  13. says

    Hmm, I recognized the name from my own wikipedia adventures.

    The stuff he did actually did sound interesting and worthy of the name “cyborg” to me:

    By means of the implant, Warwick’s nervous system was connected onto the internet in Columbia University, New York. From there he was able to control the robot arm in the University of Reading and to obtain feedback from sensors in the finger tips. He also successfully connected ultrasonic sensors on a baseball cap and experienced a form of extra sensory input.[50]

    A highly publicised extension to the experiment, in which a simpler array was implanted into the arm of Warwick’s wife—with the ultimate aim of one day creating a form of telepathy or empathy using the Internet to communicate the signal from afar—was also successful in-so-far as it resulted in the first direct and purely electronic communication between the nervous systems of two humans.[51]

    Maybe I need to check back on how accurately these were reported on?

    Also, there’s Neil Harbisson who claims to be a cyborg, and this is apparently recognized by some government.

  14. gussnarp says

    @brainpansky #15:

    Maybe I need to check back on how accurately these were reported on?

    I expect so. As described in those brief paragraphs, those sound like pretty tremendous advances, which makes me suspicious that they’re overstating the case at the least. Also of note, the sources for those paragraphs are papers written by Warwick, so if what he’s guilty of is overhyping his results, that would be a poor source for determining whether he’s done that. This is a case where we’d have to also look at the criticism of those papers.

  15. gussnarp says

    @brianpansky (who’s nym I can actually spell, in contrast to my previous comment) #15:
    I found the paragraph previous to the one’s you quoted interesting as well:

    This device consisted of an internal electrode array, connected to an external “gauntlet” that housed supporting electronics. It was implanted on 14 March 2002, and interfaced directly into Warwick’s nervous system. The electrode array inserted contained 100 electrodes, of which 25 could be accessed at any one time, whereas the median nerve which it monitored carries many times that number of signals. The experiment proved successful, and the signal produced was detailed enough that a robot arm developed by Warwick’s colleague, Dr Peter Kyberd, was able to mimic the actions of Warwick’s own arm.

    Without being privy to more details of the experiment (or the specific engineering and neurology expertise to fully understand them) the sections I’ve bolded above make the rest seem a bit suspect to me. So he wore a gauntlet that was in some way connected to his nervous system. His movements were mimicked by a remote robot arm. There are probably thousands of grad students who could make a gauntlet that could allow your movement to be mimicked by a remote robot arm without any kind of never connection or internal implant, so what was the revolutionary part of that? Perhaps the full paper makes it clear, but that’s my initial question…

  16. jrkrideau says

    Somewhere in the news reporting on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation about a computer passing the Turing Test the new anchor, this morning, mentioned that the Turing Test had been in existence for over 100 years. Since Alan Turing was born in 1912 he must have been a very precocious child.

    Harper is winning the Battle of the CBC; it’s heading towards the Sun!

  17. David Marjanović says

    Harper is winning the Battle of the CBC; it’s heading towards the Sun!

    Forward, not backward! Upward, not forward! And twirling, twirling, twirling toward FREEDOM!!!