HAL 2001: A Space Odyssey
Could the computer assistant HAL from 2001: A Space Odyssey soon become a reality? For now, he hates kids and doesn't like philosophy Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

How far has artificial intelligence progressed? Google's latest study shows computers are able to interact with humans just fine when offering IT support, but get annoyed when asked about philosophical concepts they don't understand.

In a paper entitled "A Neural Conversational Model", Oriol Vinyals and Quoc Le of the Google Brain machine learning research project tested a computer chat robot with conversation modelling, which is the ability to predict what will come next in a conversation.

The researchers tried out actual IT helpdesk questions from humans, as well as conversation starters made up of dialogue taken from movie scripts, and the results were quite amusing.

The computer knows lots of facts about animals, inanimate objects and famous people, so it was able to answer general knowledge questions and identify that a cat has no wings and cannot fly.

It was also able to recognise that Egyptian queen Cleopatra was "regal" and that Argentinian footballer Lionel Messi "is a good player".

But when asked about more abstract concepts, such as what the purpose of life is, the computer gave cryptic answers that showed it did not really understand the meaning of living, dying, existence or emotions.

Here are some of the most amusing answers the computer gave Google's researchers:

1. It hates children

The computer doesn't mind humans, but it seems to have a huge problem with little humans.

2. It has deep thoughts about the meaning of life

The researchers asked the computer about the purpose of life and existence.

3. It thinks its out of this world

For all the facts it knows, the computer doesn't seem to know that it is on Earth.

4. If you don't know what altruism is, you're an atheist

The researchers tried to find out if the computer understood morality, or rather the difference between right and wrong, but the computer turned religious.

5. When in doubt, redirect

Not content with the computer's religious bent, the researchers kept questioning it about morality. Like a human, the computer felt that redirection to completely unrelated topics was a good idea.

6. The computer is definitely in charge

When asked questions in a certain context and order, there was no tricking the computer – it is definitely in charge.

7. It doesn't understand colours too well

For some reason, the computer didn't understand colours unless a colour was stated to it.

8. Its understanding of mathematics is a bit off

A computer couldn't possibly get simple arithmetic wrong, could it? Guess again.

9. It has interesting opinions

The computer also had trouble differentiating between Nikola Tesla and his research, but he had strong opinions about certain things.

10. The computer is a 38-year-old woman

The computer revealed that it does identify with a particular gender and age.

From these conversations, it's clear that we're still a long way away from robots understanding consciousness, so AI fans hoping for a sentient robot like HAL 9000 or Sonny from I, Robot might want to keep their expectations low for the time being.