Why two browsers in Windows 10 makes sense.

I’m more than a little surprised to hear some negative reactions to Microsoft’s announcement of shipping a Spartan, as well as IE11, with Windows 10.  As a webdev and sysadmin, this is great news. The shuffling of the proverbial titanic deckchairs that defines the Internet Explorer project really needs to come to an end.  Do I think Spartan is the death knell of IE? Not really, but it does seem to signify that IE, going forward, is just going to be an enterprise browser for enterprise software.  This means that Spartan can quickly adopt new HTML standards, get rid of all the IE legacy code, update frequently,  and be more standards compliant without breaking existing IE-only apps.  For these apps you’ll just manually run IE, or ideally, have Spartan automatically send the URL to IE once it detects legacy technology in use.

Some of the common criticisms are:

  • It still uses the Trident engine and IE’s js implementation.  Truth be told, Trident isn’t bad. In some tests it even beats Chrome and Firefox. At the very least, its competitive.
  • End users will be confused.  Considering how low IE’s adoption rate is, it seems to me that Spartan will be less of an install barrier than visiting Google.com, downloading Chrome, installing Chrome, importing favorites, etc.  End users are already moving off IE; this just stops the bleeding.
  • It should be using webkit.  Well, why is Firefox immune from that criticism?  Webkit, which is a fork of KHTML, just ends up forked anyway; see Blink. None of the big players are going to all just use the exact same rendering engine for their own reasons, good or bad.

Some of the benefits I see:

  • Enterprise admins get a GPO-configured browser that’s modern and fast, without all the legacy cruft of IE.
  • IE developers don’t need to try to code the uncodeable – something that is competitive but also maintains compatibility with proprietary code from over a decade ago.
  • IE’s release cycle can be slowed down to something more enterprise friendly as Spartan takes over as one’s “everyday browser.” At least in enterprise.
  • The eventual EOL for IE.  As enterprise gives up on its old IE6-era solutions, the need for IE will die down to the point where it can safely be abandoned or kept as a low-profile legacy application.

I also saw a recent leak of Spartan today and it looks very Chrome-like:


I like the simple interface and the added vertical height.  This is something the Chrome guys got right long ago.  MS is clearly gunning for Chrome here.  In fact, if I didn’t know better, I’d say this was Chrome running on Win10.

I’m really looking forward to Spartan.  Its the concession Microsoft has needed to make for some time. MS can’t maintain a enterprise-friendly browser and a modern browser at the same time. IE can’t be everything to everyone. Thankfully, someone at MS finally figured this out.

Why a 6 inch Nexus makes sense.

I was a little surprised to read the critical comments about Google’s new Nexus 6.  Many commentators didn’t think there was a market for a large Nexus and that the super-sized phones are something of a fad.  I probably agreed with their skepticism until I got to play with a coworker’s Note 3 recently.  I instantly fell in love with its big beautiful screen. It easily fit into my pocket and I was pretty impressed with the experience. The my coworker then told me the kind of battery life he was getting. I almost didn’t believe him at first but I looked at his SoT (Screen On Time) and was very impressed, especially considering the lackluster SoT I am getting on my Nexus 5.



Google, like many smartphone manufacturers have found themselves in an insurmountable bind: consumers want thinner and lighter devices but they also want more battery life.  These items naturally conflict as more battery life requires more thickness, but Samsung learned that people will forgive the little extra thickness of a large phone and that all that surface area means its trivial to shove in a larger capacity battery.  In other words, the industry simply does not see any battery breakthroughs in the near or long term and the best way to make a large high-capacity battery marketable is to put into a large phone.

I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that the smartphone endgame is a probably a phablet. There’s no real use case that phablets can’t handle and their assets greatly outweigh their liabilities.  The size argument, to me, is largely bunk.  The Apple-esque musings about natural sizes as pertaining to the length of the human thumb and the insistence that no one wants to use two hands on a smartphone turned out to be false.  It turns out evolution has made us prefer two-handed use naturally and its just tons more efficient.  One handed use, in a pinch, is doable as well, even with the largest phablets.

The “too big to travel with” argument is weak too. Women have near unlimited space in their purses and men, generally, have large pockets. I could fit three Nexus 5 phones in the pockets of the shorts I’m wearing.  Its really a non-issue for most.

The mobile web suddenly becomes usable at 5+ inches.  High quality TV shows and movies look great at the higher resolutions and with a large screen I can better appreciate the image. There’s a reason why the HDTV market didn’t stabilize at 37 or 42 inches, as some thought.  Now we’re seeing pretty good prices at 50-55″ with no shortage of sales at those sizes.  People just prefer larger sizes when they can afford them.

The only downside I see here is the hefty $650 pricetag. I suspect there’s a lot of headroom built into this price and there will be a pricedrop for this eventually.  At $550 or $499 it becomes a lot more appealing, if not a bargain. I think Google will be vindicated with the 6″ format and the naysayers will eventually warm up to phablets.   If Google didn’t explore phablets, especially with Apple releasing its iPhone Plus, it would put Google at a pretty significant disadvantage. I suspect there’s a lot of internal testing and data at Apple and Google right now pointing towards the preference of large screen phones.  With the right marketing and pricing, we might see the end of sub 5.5″ phones in the near future, the same way the sub 4.5″ phone is disappearing now.


The subtle pleasures of owning a smartwatch

I recently picked up the Moto 360 and really wasn’t sure what I was getting myself into. I read some reviews, but the reviewers seemed much more focused on “car guy” stuff like specs, resolution, etc instead of the experience of using an Android Wear device in one’s daily life.  I was surprised to find out that the experience is pleasant in ways I didn’t expect and largely different from a smartphone.

For example, I never, ever talk into my smartphone in public or at work. I feel like its a bit rude and makes me feel self-conscious. Yet, there’s something very accepting about whispering into your smartwatch.  I think there’s a sort of stigma attached to the types of people who treat their phone like a 2-way walk-talkie and we’re socialized a bit to talk loudly into a phone, but with a smartwatch these issues just aren’t there.  A quick whisper to text my wife is pretty stealthy because raising my wrist to my lips only takes a moment and I only need to speak loud enough for the microphone to hear me.  I can do this without most people around me even noticing, which is a huge plus.

The fitness apps seemed a little half-baked to me, but I am enjoying the pedometer.  I’ve started giving myself goals, like breaking 5,000 steps while walking my dog.  The progress is fun to see on the charts it provides.  A pedometer is something I would have never sought out on my own, but as a built-in function its actually pretty useful.

My entire life of email, texts, etc has changed in a small but appreciable way.  It turns out most of the messages I receive aren’t long or important, so glancing at them on my watch is more than enough.  The watch displays a good sentence and half of text and tapping on it loads the next sentence and a half. Its surprisingly efficient.  I would like better pre-cooked responses though.  Android Wear has a few for replying to texts, but I’d like to see more and this feature available for email.

From a social graces point of view, its  godsend. I was getting way too much into the habit of pulling out my phone incessantly and checking things like twitter, reddit, email, etc.  While my habits are still poor, I feel its much less of a faux pas to quickly look at something on my watch than to actually reach deep into my pocket, pull out a large square of glowing glass, unlock it, navigate to the application, and finally check the message.

The built in Google Maps navigation is fun as well. While driving,  I can just whisper to my watch to navigate somewhere and turn by turn directions will appear on its face. This is so much more convenient, and I imagine more safe for the driver, than trying to deal with mounting a phone on your dash, worrying about the phone’s battery, etc.  I can just glance at my wrist, look at an arrow that will tell me when my next turn is, and immediately put my eyes back on the road.

The watch is sometimes unintentionally comical with its Google Now integration.  It randomly tells me the traffic home, like its urging me to quit the workday early.  Sometimes I catch a strange green glow on its underside when its randomly checking my heart rate for the fitness app.  Incoming phone calls can be a little strange. I’ll suddenly feel a vibration in both my pocket and my wrist and see a photo of the person calling on my watch’s face, filling it completely.  There’s a real futureshock element here that I’m just not experiencing with smartphones and I’ve been using smartphones since the early days of the Treo.  I’m also starting to develop what I call the “Moto 360 nose.”  If both my hands are occupied and a wrist twitch doesn’t turn the screen on, I find myself leaning in and using my nose to turn the screen on or to dismiss a notification.  I suspect some wrist twitch tweaking will eliminate the need for this in the future, but right now I must look incredibly silly sometimes.

Like all technology, it has its shortcomings. Its screen doesn’t turn on sometimes when I flick my wrist.  Its ambient mode, like all ambient modes I’ve seen, look like the displays of cheap VCR’s from the 1980s.  I don’t even bother with ambient mode, both because of the looks and because of battery life.  A lot of apps aren’t optimized for Android Weaar, so trivial things like actually seeing a reddit comment or tweet aren’t possible yet. Instead, you get a button that reads “Open on phone” which kinda defeats the purpose here.  I expect this to change as developers update their apps to be Android Wear aware as opposed to the dumb notification pass through Android does with non-AW aware apps.  I also don’t like how the search function will usually show me the most relevant wikipedia page, but will only allow me to view the first sentence of the wikipedia page. Unlike texts and emails I just can’t tap to continue loading the text. I also don’t like how I can skip songs on an album I’m listening to, but cannot navigate to other albums.

I also don’t like that there’s no movie theater mode. The screen lit up more than a few times during a showing of Gone Girl.  Luckily, no one was sitting behind us as I imagine it must be annoying to suddenly have a bright light come in right in front of you in a darkened theater.  I absolutely can’t stand it when people view their smartphones during a movie.  It just takes you out of the experience.  Hopefully, we’ll get some kind of mode like this soon as the only solution I’ve found is to shut off the watch.

Interesting side note about battery life. Not only do I get more than enough battery life for all day use, my phone’s battery life is suddenly better.  It turns out I’m viewing my phone’s screen much less often, so my screen-on-time is less, which means significant battery savings.  At night I charge both of them together on an Energizer Dual Qi charging pad. Motorola chose the popular Qi standard for charging the Moto 360 which sure beats yet another proprietary connector  or wireless charging standard.

That said, its a pretty good experience.  I’m enjoying a level of convenience here that’s starting to illustrate, to me at least, how unnatural the smartphone experience is. The idea of carrying around this bulky glass brick and constantly pulling it out has taken a backseat to just glancing at my watch.   I’m not sure what the future holds for smartwatches, but I’m honestly finding mine useful and don’t think its a fad or a mere fashion accessory. Its really a superior way to use mobile technologies for many common use cases.  Who knew?



Bash patched again (CVE-2014-7169)

I just noticed that apt-get has a second patch for the bash environmental variable exploit or shellshock as its being called now. Apparently the first one did not fully resolve the issue. I just installed it on all my personal and work systems. No issues thus far.  Details:




If you have any linux systems up you should patch again asap.  Thankfully, the world of embedded devices seems to have standardize on Busybox which uses the less feature-full ash than bash and is immune to this vulnerability.    Popular FOSS firewalls like pfsense and dd-wrt seem immune also.  Some embedded devices do seem vulnerable like some models of Western Digital’s NAS lineup. Hopefully this isn’t the security apocalypse we thought it would be.  Imagine if Busybox used bash instead of ash.  Maybe its best not to consider such scenarios, but the issue of who is going to update the millions of net-enabled “install and forget” embedded devices out there when they have a security issue still remains.  None of ones I’ve worked with had an auto-update feature, let alone one that’s turned on automatically.

Chrome 37 update breaks Exchange webmail.

Chrome 37 no longer supports showModalDialog as of version 37 and I’m hearing reports of odd webmail issues (I manage an Exchange server for my company).

I just verified this on Exchange 2010’s OWA with all the latest patches. Chrome 37’s lack of showModalDialog support means the pop-ups that OWA uses no longer work.  The address book and insert-attachment pop-ups are completely broken this morning for Chrome users. This is easy to recreate. Create a new email and then click on To, CC, or the attachment icon.  Nothing happens.  Google has a statement here about how only .006% of the web uses showModalDialog and why they’re pulling it. What they don’t realize is that its used by an important .006% (a lot of Microsoft products).  Suddenly breaking every implementation of every Microsoft Exchange webmail instance is fairly ridiculous, especially since this wasn’t publicized in a large way, nor did Google work with MS to make sure MS already had patches out to support this change.  Meanwhile, both Firefox and IE work just fine.

Google claims this feature, which stems from the MS dominated IE4 days, was “never formalized” and a “security risk” so they just removed it. While I agree that MS was fast and loose about pushing defacto web standards, I simply can’t agree about being fast and loose about pulling them either.  The comments on that page also claim Dynamics CRM and other products are affected.  I think the age of Chrome as this lightweight friendly browser are over.  Every month seems to bring in another questionable management decision.  I think its time to re-visit Firefox as the “just works” browser and leave the Chrome experiment for a while, especially for business use.  I’m certainly not against change and progressing to only formalized standards. I just think Chrome’s changes can just be managed better and with more notice. Swamping the helpdesk and frustrating end-users shouldn’t be how this stuff is done correctly.

edit: I’m getting some conflicting information on whether this affects Exchange 2013 and to what extent. Unfortunately, I only have 2010 to test with.

Why MS wants Minecraft and why fans should be happy about it.

Right now, MS is running scared on multiple fronts.  Its at a serious disadvantage with the upcoming VR headsets war, namely againt  the Oculus Rift and whatever Sony ends up calling the Morpheus project.  It has a dull OS release in Windows 8 and a gaming division that investors consider, at best, a non-worthwhile pursuit and at worst, a drain that needs to be spun off. Considering 2/3rds of MS’s revenues come from corporate sales of its enterprise, Windows, and Office products – well, they may be right.

So what’s MS to do to save its gaming division? Buy something big.  Really big.  Minecraft.



What MS wants to do to Sony.

Now imagine a scenario where MS owns Mincraft. The following could happen:

  • Fans are freed from Notch/Mojang’s absentee landlord problem.  Fans want nextgen Minecraft, innovation, faster improvements, etc.  Currently, the Minecraft IP moves very slowly and has been monetized on a level that keeps Notch/Mojang happy.  MS could bring some revitalized life into the IP, the same way Star Wars fans are getting new movies and games from Disney after many years of neglect from George Lucas.
  • MS finally gets it Oculus/Morpheus killer.  MS’s VR hardware won’t be any better than its competitors so it can only differentiate via software. Imagine if the ‘Kinect VR’ launched with Minecraft as its defacto Multiverse. Why would I buy an Oculus or a Morpheus? What’s their killer apps? Facebook and Playstation Home? Please.
  • Now imagine playing Minecraft with your hands as the Kinect tracks your movement. Build with your hands, flick bricks with your wrist, etc.  This all could happen before MS releases its VR headset. We could have Kinect Minecraft by this xmas.
  • This could be the Muliverse VR fans have been waiting for.  Minecraft has everything a VR world needs: building things, shops, social, a huge fanbase, gamification that works, etc.  Notch may not have realized this early on, but he was building something a lot bigger than just a game.  Top-down concepts like Second Life, Playstation Home, etc have all failed for one simple reason: they are just not fun to spend time in. Minecraft is very, very fun and to certain demographic its practically social, VR, email, skype, etc all rolled into one.
  • MS for all its faults, isn’t EA. It won’t gouge and destroy the IP. Look at Halo still going strong a decade later, for example. It has a huge incentive to keep Minecraft fans happy. Afterall, its buying the community as much as the IP.
  • MS would bring sanity to Minecraft’s broken mod system. If there’s one thing MS is good at is making easy to use tools for developers.
  • MS doesn’t like java. Minecraft would be ported to C# and the performance issues will go away permanently.
  • Windows 9 comes out with Minecraft Lite built into its game section, reminding gamers, that Windows is the PC gaming OS of choice and that isn’t changing.

That’s just a guess, but who knew VR’s killer app could be Minecraft.  The current assumption that VR will build a new metaverse from scratch or just be the plaything of FPS gamers seem pretty short-sighted to me. MS might be thinking big here and with all the pressure they have from Apple, Sony, and Facebook, they might need to make some dramatic moves.  MS buying Minecraft might be the dramatic move it needs as well as the revitalization Minecraft needs.

Android may have just won the smartwatch war

I was just watching the Apple smartwach unveil and was really stunned at how ordinary and underwhelming their watch is.  As a fun little thought experiment lets switch places between Apple and Google. Imagine if Google showed off that watch, which looks a lot like the LG G Watch, you’d probably think of it as a geeky and overpriced toy.  Tech pundits would brand the watch another uncool and unfashionable accessory typical of Google’s geek culture.



This is the Moto 360 killer?

Now imagine if Apple released the Moto 360 or the LG Watch R.  Pundits would praise Tim Cook’s “vision” and remind us how cool and in-touch Apple is.  They’d tell us, of course, the round watch-face is the only way to go. They’d remind us how watches are fashion items first and tech gizmos last.  They’d mock the Android Wear watches as modern day Casio calculator watches…. and they’d be right.



 Watch R and the Moto 360


So how did this happen? I think Apple’s main strength is working with yesterday’s technology and polishing it near perfectly. The problem here is watches are a whole new class of device. They don’t have anything to polish yet. The monolithic “design expert” method Apple leans on may not work when variety is demanded. Fashionistas don’t all want to be wearing the same thing.

Google did something right here. Their Wear software is good, or at least good enough, and their various hardware partnerships have produced some compelling watches with real variety. The Watch R has a sporty face, the 360 has a more modern round look, the G Watch has the square crowd covered, etc.  Fashion is about variety and changeable watch bands just aren’t enough.  Apple lacks enough variety in their “one size fits all” mentality and giving up control to other manufacturers is simply not their style.

Self-driving cars are the jetpacks of my generation.

I was just watching HBO’s Silicon Valley and a scene revealed something interesting to me.  A character was stepping into a self-driving car, paused, gulped nervously, and finally sat down.  I realized I would feel the same way, if not worse, and can’t imagine getting in a self-driving car that would drive on the expressway. I would probably refuse.  Think about all the things that give us anxiety. Most people fear roller coasters. Here’s a system that’s literally on rails and never has to worry about traffic, lights, turning, pedestrians, hitting black ice, being rear ended, etc.  Or flying.  Heck, you can’t even fly if the weather is bad due to FAA guidelines. Who is going to make that call with the self-driving car?

Even if we crack the problems of driving in low visibility, rain, and managing snowy or icy roads, what does that leave us with exactly? A pretty complex device that adds on about 10k cost and who knows what kind of maintenance it requires.  I work with code and IT systems all day. I don’t have much trust that these systems will be magically bug-free and perfect.  We don’t even fly planes completely automated, which is a much simpler nut to crack than road driving. Instead we have two highly-trained and qualified pilots on every flight.  We don’t deploy sentry guns that shoot at targets by themselves in wartime, even with elaborate friend or foe identifying mechanisms.  Why do we think we’re going to trust automobiles with autonomy? 10-15 mph down a street on a google campus that’s well lit and evenly paved is a world of difference compared to driving in the Chicago winter or on the Dan Ryan.  Futurism needs to be tempered with skepticism and practically.

Who are we selling this to and why? The assumption seems to be that these cars beat urban traffic, but urban traffic has nothing to do with driving habits and everything to do with capacity. Cities rated with good transportation are rated this way because they’ve eliminated the need for a car enough to keep street congestion low.  Automated cars don’t solve these modern issues.  Owning an automated car means somewhere to park them, fuel them, it encourages car culture and suburbanization, etc.  We made the gamble with cars vs public trans during the 30s and 40s and we still live with the regret today. Cities with trolleys and street-cars quickly tore them out to add another lane for cars.  Light rain development stopped, or in many cities, never started due to the popularity of cars.  Bike lanes have only recently come in fashion in the US, but in cities with real winters, they’re of limited commuting use and certainly not usable by seniors or those with disabilities.

In other words, cars are the problem and the solution probably isn’t building a better car.  The solution is investment into public trans. The city of the future should be built with more train stops, bike lanes, dedicated bus lanes, streetcars, etc.  Uber, self-driving cars, electric cars, etc are all band-aids on the larger problem of urban congestion, population increases, and the graying of America.  Its very odd to see gen-x and gen-y buy into failed boomer solutions.  Why are all these bright young minds spending their time trying to perfect the mythologized 1950s and 60s with its cruising culture, cheap gas, low traffic, and big block engines? None of these things exist anymore and when they did they were of questionable value and we’re paying the price for it today with global warming. Why are we still romanticizing the car as the solution to our transportation woes? Why ever bother building out high speed rail in the US when self-driving cars will take us there?

I don’t know what the real solution here is, but I imagine this overly complex rube-goldberg-esque machine probably isn’t part of it.  I suspect, “Remember when they promised us self-driving cars,” will be every hack comedian’s goto joke in the 2020’s.  Instead, we’ll have driving assistance that helps us stay in lanes, better cruise control, better accident avoidance, etc, and hopefully a large investment in our public infrastructure as we realize cars aren’t the solution to many of our transportation woes, no matter how smart they may be.

Starbucks reignites Qi vs Powermat wireless charging war.

Back in 2010, Powermat had all but won the mindshare of the wireless charging industry.  It had  a successful CES2010 demo, deep pocketed supporters, a standard that seemed agreeable, and its only competitor Qi was known for its compatibility issues and lack of industry support.  Then 2012 happened. Google launched the Nexus 4 with Qi wireless charging support and then so did Samsung, Nokia, and HTC.  Qi became the de-facto standard. Powermat never got native support in any phone. Its only product was an iPhone case that provided Powermat support. Not only was that case ugly and clunky looking, it also debuted at $49.  2.8 stars out of 5 on Amazon doesn’t fill anyone with confidence. Up until today Powermat was considered borderline dead. Then Starbucks announced it will put Powermat wireless charging into every store.   The $49 Powermat case is gone and instead you’ll plug a little USB ring into your phone,  align that ring with a graphic on the Powermat mat, and watch it charge.    Millions of Qi enabled phones will be ignored and will need to use this ring if they want to charge.


So what happened?  Both standards are alike as they both use the same inductive charging method.  You lay your phone down on a mat and it charges.  The only odd man out here is a consortium called A4WP which uses magnetic resonance technology that can charge your device from several feet away. Perhaps even a room away.  This sounds tempting but because of the inverse square law, the power needed to charge your phone from several feet away is going to be many times the power needed to charge via a few millimeters using inductive charging.  Considering how big tech companies are with green initiatives and how energy dependence and pollution are hot button topics, this causes some concern.  That said, Powermat and A4WP signed an agreement a couple months ago to share technologies.  This looked like desperate move for two losing competitors to beat the leader, but now I’m not so sure.  Why? Apple.

Apple has yet to choose any side in the wireless charging wars.  They’re been watching and waiting, I’m assuming, for the right technology to come by. Whoever they pick will become the defacto leader by sheer volume of Apple phones and tablets sold. Android OEMs will switch over to be compatible.  Apple didn’t seem eager to jump into the Qi waters like Google and Android OEMs did. What is Apple waiting for?   Maybe this. Powermat’s press release with A4WP has this interesting line:

PMA adopts the A4WP Rezence specification as the PMA magnetic resonance charging specification for both transmitters and receivers in both single and multi-mode configurations

Does this mean the a version of Powermat will come out that does both induction and magnetic resonance charging? Sure reads that way. Imagine having a little powerbox next to your wifi, or built into the next Airport, that charged your iPad and iPhone while you were using them.  It would be a game changer.  Qi’s induction only charging couldn’t compete.

Of course, its unlikely a deal signed in Febuary is going to provide hardware for a phone coming out soon, but Apple can simply buy into Powermat today as a mat charging solution, allow native charging at Starbucks, and move towards the long distance charging when its ready.  They won’t even need to change wireless charging vendors.

If I was a betting man, I’d bet against Qi right now.  There’s just too much going on in the wireless charging world and I find it hard to believe Starbucks ran with Powermat without factoring in what Apple would do.  This could turn out like HD-DVD vs Blu-ray.  HD-DVD seemed poised for victory then Sony released the PS3 with a built in Blu-ray reader and the rest is history.  Regardless of what happens, its fair to say that  Qi’s defacto position was severely threatened by Starbucks today.

The Turing Test is crap, here’s why.

I was just reading Ray Kurzweil’s chat with University of Reading’s Turing Test “winner,” a chat bot called Eugene Goostman.  Its an embarrassing collection of chat tricks like deflection of questions via humor or deflection of questions via asking another unrelated question. I think this exchange is pretty damning:

Question: How old were you when you started to wear glasses?
Eugene: No I was not! How can you think so?! If I’m not mistaken – you still didn’t tell me where you live. OR it’s a secret?:-)

The lesson I’m seeing here is that Turing’s famous test is flawed, perhaps fatally so.  The problem with using a purely American Idol-style judging competition is that humans are easy to fooled or social engineered. The people who wrote the Goostman chatbot knew exactly what they were doing. They filled it with logic that hid its shortcomings like the deflections above or by posing as a boy to make mistakes an adult would make excusable. They also made the boy understand English as a second language which further muddied the water and excuses poor grammar and other communication issues. It also plays on fears of coming off as too ethnocentrist if we dismiss a foreign chat participant as a robot if they sound a bit off.  The people behind this chatbot really understood how flawed the Turing test is and exploited it.

This competition reminds me of 1970s research into ESP and the paranormal that usually involved one very charismatic subject like Uri Geller running rings around researchers completely unfamiliar with sleight of hand and other stage magic tricks.  The researchers involved were just not able to see how badly they were being fooled until they brought in a stage magician like James Randi to consult. I think Turing, like a lot of high IQ types, maybe didn’t understand the social implications of a test like this. I imagine in his mind, everyone involved would be an honest and not engage in any sort of disingenuous activity. In the real world, any time there’s some kind of social or financial incentive involved, there will be non-honest players.

So, what now? The popular press has been running with Reading’s narrative that the Turing test has been passed.  Futurists and other pop-science crackpots will be telling us for years to come that AI chat is here, after all some judges in England have decided so. My take is that we use this as a springboard to invalidate the Turing test and lay it to bed.   I imagine a generalist approach using a suite of many different types of tests could replace it in the public consciousness.  Human judging should only be one part, preferably a small part, of the testing suite. I think the idea that only humans can tell us when AI is here is a little old fashioned.  Maybe we’ll need specialist machines to talk to specialist machines.  As things grow more complex, more abstraction layers are inserted.  Maybe communicating with AI will bring in the same challenges we have with communicating with intelligent animals like chimps or cephalopods.

I doubt IBM’s Watson could pass the Turing test, or even come close to winning, but its probably the closest we have “strong AI” as its a generalist self-learning machine.  I’m not sure how you would test it to see if something like Watson is an AI, or if a larger suite of testing is even feasible or less faulty. I imagine Turing understood these challenges and came up with his test because its probably the least of the worst, but how its been implemented leaves a lot to be desired.  There may be no AI test that’s truly trustworthy, and I think we should be fine with that, but the status quo of impersonating boys in a chatrooms seems like the worst path imaginable.  The Turing test has unfortunately become a chatbot social engineering competition and does us no good.  Perhaps its time to give up on it.