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Turing Test opera to embark on UK tour

An opera hinging on Alan Turing's quest for artificial intelligence will begin touring in October

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The Turing Test, developed by mathematician and legendary wartime codebreaker Alan Turing to test a machine's ability to exhibit intelligent behaviour, is the subject of an opera by Scottish composer Julian Wagstaff, which will embark on a UK tour in October 2012.

The Turing Test is set in the near future and tells the fictional story of a brilliant young PhD student named Stephanie, who is trapped in a bitter battle between two rival scientists racing to build the world's first truly intelligent computer.

The opera, which received critical acclaim at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in 2007, is one hour long, and is scored for six voices and a small orchestra. It is sung in English, with one of the six singers playing the part of the computer.

The tour marks the hundredth anniversary year of the birth of Alan Turing (1912–1954), who is widely considered to be the father of modern computing. The concept of a computer being able to imitate a human being was first expressed in a paper by Turing entitled “Computing Machinery and Intelligence”, published in 1950 in the journal Mind.

Turing suggested that if you are having an “online chat” via two separate computer terminals, one of which is linked to a human correspondent and the other to a computerised chat program, and if you cannot tell the difference between the computer and the human after chatting for an extended period of time, then the computer has passed the test and can legitimately be said to be intelligent.

No machine has ever succeeded in passing the Turing test. However, an annual competition called the Loebner Prize offers the sum of $100,000 (£63,000) for the inventor of the first machine which can successfully pass it. This year's competition will be held at the Bletchley Park Museum.

“I am very excited about taking The Turing Test on tour. Alan Turing is a real hero of mine, and it will be wonderful to see a professional revival of my opera in this, his centenary year,” said Wagstaff.

“We aim to bring the important concepts that Turing engaged with so brilliantly to a wider audience, while at the same time introducing new audiences to contemporary music and opera,” he added.

Turing's centenery year will also be celebrated with the launch of a commemorative Royal Mail stamp, as well as a number of events taking place around the UK and abroad. However, the House of Lords last week declined to grant a posthumous pardon for the crime of gross indecency, of which Turing was convicted in 1952 due to his homosexuality.

“A posthumous pardon was not considered appropriate as Alan Turing was properly convicted of what at the time was a criminal offence. He would have known that his offence was against the law and that he would be prosecuted,” said Minister of State Lord McNally in a written answer on 2 February.

“It is tragic that Alan Turing was convicted of an offence which now seems both cruel and absurd-particularly poignant given his outstanding contribution to the war effort. However, the law at the time required a prosecution and, as such, long-standing policy has been to accept that such convictions took place and, rather than trying to alter the historical context and to put right what cannot be put right, ensure instead that we never again return to those times.”


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