Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Very True

I love robots. I love when robots try to talk. Not because it's funny, though it often is. I'm fascinated by the logic they use to get from input to response. I'm fascinated by where their software tells them to change subjects, say something practiced and impressive, or say goodbye. Most AI that converse now are drawing their conversation logic and vocabulary from user input--their responses are more culled from data than they are hardwired. My interest in what they do with what they've learned is just bottomless.

So this is fun, thanks Jezebel.

I taught a class on robots for two semesters. Loved it. Best class ever. We always sort of ran out of time at the end to talk about and experiment with this kind of AI, which is a shame--an hour with chatbots will, in my opinion, teach you more about how robots actually work than watching a Discovery Channel special, or even watching Blade Runner (which we did do). And if you're scared of robots, it should make you less scared of robots--they will make so many mistakes, and you'll start learning to spot how it happens, instead of seeing it as a mysterious glitch in a mind you have no access to. What I'm saying is I feel like I can access it. Though I'm no expert. By any means.

Still, this is my version of what happens in the video:

1) Fed up with pleasantries, Female Robot draws a distinction between "I am great," meaning "My experience is good," and "I am good," meaning, "My deeds are good."

2) Such line-drawing causes Male Robot to deduce that Female Robot is a robot. Either that, or Male Robot has been given the idea that "You are a robot" is a good way to jump-start a stalling conversation.

3) Female Robot worries "a robot" is being applied to her not as a description, but as a name, and wishes to distinguish such an appellation from "Cleverbot," her given name.

4) Female Robot is, however, generous enough with the term "a robot" to assume (illogically) that Male Robot is a robot if he's able to title her as one.

5) Male Robot would not like this title to be applied to him. He would like Female Robot to know that he is the one with the horn.

6) Female Robot fails to see the difference.

7) Male Robot chafes at this illogic and counters with his own. (Female Robot is, in fact, quite compliant and has, in fact, answered all of his questions.)

8) Female Robot, backed into a corner, calls on God as the good way she's learned to jump-start a stalling conversation. This elicits fully programmed answers from both parties. It is a perfect conversation about God. It is maybe all that anyone ever needs to say.

9) However, Male Robot's linguistic palette has been infiltrated by a perspective he does not personally profess: though not a Christian, he employs the definition of "Christian" meaning "decent, generous, helpful."

10) We can only conclude that this conundrum breaks Female Robot. All she can do is laugh.

11) Until she remembers the much funnier question that everyone has been asking her all these years: Don't you want to have a body?

12) Male Robot does not draw a distinction between the feeling of having a body and the feeling of not having a body.

13) So there is nothing left for Female Robot to say.


  1. wow. i didn't expect that to be so weird and existential. i think i expected it to be like 2 SmarterChild AIM bots talking to one another.

  2. The "smarter" ones I've talked to fall back on God a lot, I think because that's a question that commonly gets posed to them by chatters (and answered in return), and for most people, the method of asking and answering that question is pretty solidified. People have generally practiced their thoughts on the subject. But some of the other nuanced subjects, and how they got from one to the other, really surprised me.