AI in Informal Science Education: Bringing Turing Back to Life to Perform the Turing Test

In IJAIED 27 (2)

Publication information


Artificial virtual humans, Avatars, Embodied conversationl agents, Informal science education, Science museum exhibit, Turing test


This paper describes an interactive museum exhibit featuring an avatar of Alan Turing that informs museum visitors about artificial intelligence and Turing’s seminal Turing Test for machine intelligence. The objective of the exhibit is to engage and motivate visiting children in the hope of sparking an interest in them about computer science and artificial intelligence, and cause them to consider pursuing future studies and/or careers in these fields. The exhibit interacts with the visitors, allowing them to participate in a simplified version of Turing’s test that is brief and informal to suit the limitations of a five-minute exhibit. In this exhibit, the visitor (targeted towards middle school age children) invokes an avatar of his/her own choice, and acts to endow it with human-like qualities (voice, brain, eyesight and hearing). Then, the visitor engages the avatar in a (brief) question-and-answer session to determine whether the visitor thinks that he/she is interacting with a real human on a video conference or with an avatar. We consider this interaction to be an extension of the original Turing Test because, unlike Turing’s original that used text via a teletype, this version features a graphical embodiment of an agent with which one can converse in spoken natural language. This extension serves to make passing the Turing Test more difficult, as now the avatar must not only communicate like a human, but also look, sound and act the part. It also makes the exhibit visual, dynamic and interesting to the visitors. Evaluations were performed with museum visitors, both in backrooms with prototypes as well as on the museum floor with the final version. The formative and summative evaluations performed indicated overall success in engaging the museum visitors and increasing their interest in computer science. More specifically, the formative testing, mostly done in quiet back rooms with selected test subjects, indicated that on the important questions about enjoyment of exhibit and increased interest in computer science by the test subjects, their self-reported Likert scale responses (1 being negative and 5 being positive) increased from 3.16 in the first evaluation to 4.38 in the third one for increased interest in CS. Likewise for the question about exhibit enjoyment (from 3.92 to 4.56). The summative evaluation, done through unobtrusive observation of exhibit use on museum floor, indicated that almost 74% of the parties that initiated the exhibit were either highly or moderately engaged by the exhibit. However, there was one major negative finding, namely the overly long duration of the exhibit, which may have caused premature abandonment of the exhibit in several cases during the summative evaluation. These tests and their results are presented and discussed in detail in this paper. The exhibit has been on permanent display at the Orlando (FL) Science Center since June 2014 and has received a strongly positive response from visitors since that time.