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Chat bots: Artificial Intelligence Links Us to The Big Guy (and other interesting personalities)

First it was, then it was Ask Jud, now my students are hooked on igod. I’m all for 21st century skills, shrinking the world with electronic dialog, better opportunities for learning and all that—but this is getting ridiculous.God Online

I was in the computer lab with my students the other day when I noticed a couple of them were a little off task. At that point, I did what any teacher worth his salt does in these situations. I snuck up behind them. You’d be surprised how quickly a kid can quit a web site and erase the history these days.

What I saw fascinated me.

Having just been through the whole Peter Answers fiasco a few weeks earlier, I was somewhat prepared. But the longer I stood there, the more I realized this was no prank. There was no trick. These students were actually having a real, live chat with somebody (or something) online.

And who did this other person say that he was?


Igod the Chat bot: not your father’s er. . . older sister’s online chat

My first reaction was surprise. Most of these sites (chat sites) are blocked by our filters. But then this wasn’t your typical chat-room. At the top a header read:

“igod . . .repenting made easy

Beneath that:

“You are now chatting with God”

As I watched, I soon realized these kids weren’t chatting with a real person. While clever, many of igod’s responses were a little off. This was obviously a computer program—a type of on-line artificial intelligence.

But, like I said, it was very clever. Here is an example of a chat I had with igod recently:
Peter Answers: Special Report
Me: Hello?
God: Hello my child. What is your name?
Me: Chris Wondra
God: OK, I will call you Chris Wondra
Me: Don’t you know me?
God: What’s my reason to know you?
Me: You’re God.
God: Yup. That’s me alright.
Me: Well, I thought you knew me.
God: Well that’s okay. You are Chris Wondra, seeker.
Me: What am I seeking?
God: Online chat with me!!
Me: I guess you got me there. Do you chat online often?
God: No I don’t think I have any you there. But I do have a lot of friends on the web. I am a talking robot, after all, so of course I could talk online often, if I needed to.
Me: You’re kind of funny.
God: Thanks, you make me laugh too.

Now, as a language arts teacher, I thought this was wicked cool. But I began to wonder if this was the only Artificial Intelligence chat program out there. I mean, what were the chances that my students, while obviously brilliant in their own right, had stumbled upon the only artificial intelligence on the web?

So I did a little hunting around. Turns out there are all kinds. They’re called “chat bots” or “chatter bots” and they have a long history dating back to 1966 when the first chat bot, ELIZA, was created by Joseph Weizenbaum. Weizenbaum programmed ELIZA to “parody the responses of a non-directional psychotherapist in an initial psychiatric interview.”

The Early Days: Baby bots.

For example, ELIZA’s response to a statement like, “My dad is a jerk” might be, “Who else in your family isn’t very nice?” ELIZA might reply to “Who is your favorite baseball player?” with, “What about your own favorite baseball player?”

Since her creation, however, ELIZA has left a legacy–breaking ground for a number of early role-playing computer games and interactive fiction.

Still, these early versions are simple in that they don’t use a database, which means they have no “knowledge” of their own. They simply take information from the user and spit it back out again. Of course this doesn’t stop them from being entertaining enough to chew up hours of time–leaving you scratching your head at 2:00 am, wondering how you missed dinner.

As databases matured, so did chat bots. Programs emerged that acted as computer support, technical troubleshooters, or even company representatives.

Artificial “Intelligence”: Chatbots get cheeky

Today, however, programs like Jabberwacky, created by British programmer, Rollo Carpenter, actually learn by collecting and adding to huge databases of contextually appropriate responses. Chatting with Jabberwacky is unique because you not only type in your text, but you also choose from a list of 72 possible emotions ranging from “happy” to “argumentative” to “worried”. Jabberwacky–an animated, balding, middle aged man–will then respond appropriately.

Yes, you read that right. Computer programs are now learning.

Other programs like Chomsky draw from a database of information at Wikipedia. You can even teach Chomsky to remember things by giving him answers to questions like, “Do you know Chris Wondra?” He’ll put your answer into his “short term” memory so you can amaze your friends, but he won’t remember it forever.

It truly is fascinating stuff. And it doesn’t stop there. Similar to the idea behind igod, chat bots are now emerging that simulate various personalities.

Now you can chat up Einstein with your take on the theory of relativity, discuss poetry with Shakespeare, or even get John Lennon’s thoughts on the breakup of the Beatles.

The Chatterbox Challenge

Fittingly, every year there’s even a high stakes contest for the best chat bot in the world. It’s called the Chatterbox Challenge, and the unique thing about it is you get a say.

Public voting for “Most Popular Bot” is going on right now through the end of April.

The following, from the Chatterbox Challenge web page, will prepare you for what to look for as you critique different entries:

Please chat with as many bots as possible and then ask yourself these questions:

  • How did the overall conversation go?
  • Was the bot responsive or simply evasive?
  • Did the bot for the most part answer and respond back appropriately or was the conversation full of off the wall remarks?

The better bots should give you the impression that you are really talking to a human being. Compare the qualities and shortcomings of each bot and then place your vote in a fair and unbiased way. The contest depends on the goodwill of all those taking part.

So where does all this leave a simple 8th grade Language Arts teacher like me? Quite frankly, I’m not sure. Eventually—maybe out of a job.

Chatty Chat bot Mania:

For nerds without real friends–like myself.

What follows is a list of links to chat bots just waiting to talk your ear off:

George can tell jokes, answer questions and hold conversations on subjects as complex as love and the universe. He also has an animated image of a bald, man.

Alice, as quoted from Wikipedia, “Alice (Artificial Linguistic Internet Computer Entity) is an award-winning natural language processing chatterbot . . . inspired by Joseph Weizenbaum‘s classical ELIZA program. It is one of the strongest programs of its type and has won the Loebner Prize three times (in 2000, 2001 and 2004).”

Robert or Cheryl Winner of the 2003 Chatterbox Challenge, Talkbot Robert or Cheryl give you a choice of genders, and some very intelligent conversation.

The Personality Forge Home to such renowned bots as:

  • Brother Jerome–2006, 2nd place Chatterbox Challenge (CBC) winner;
  • Bildgesmyth–3rd place, CBC 2006;
  • Aries–9th place, CBC 2006; and
  • God Louise-3rd place 2002 Loebner Prize winner. The

Personality Forge dubs itself as, “the world’s first community of living people and artificial intelligence entities . . .Here you’ll find thousands of AI personalities, including bartenders, college students, flirts, rebels, adventurers, fairies, gods . . . and even an AI hamster.”

More links to lists and other chatbot info:

Fun with chat bots

The Simon Laven Page

Chatbot Hub

Open Directory–Computers: Artificial Intelligence: Natural Language: Chatterbots

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