Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The Uncanny Valley

Have you ever wanted a robot friend?  One that could talk to you and empathize with you and give you hugs and do your work and possibly have sex with you?  How 'bout one that just chats with you on the internet about how nice bunnies are?  Well, is home to just that!  The latter, I mean.  It's the product of Man's desire to bridge "the uncanny valley," that point at which artificial humanoids become life-like enough to be creepy, before they become indistinguishable from the real thing.  Cleverbot is a robot designed to have natural-sounding, human conversations.  It mimics humans by generating responses from previous conversations it has had with other people, so it supposedly "learns" from people, like the Terminator.  It just fooled 59% of a test group into thinking it was human. (Source)

The tested version runs 42 searches of its databases before it answers.  The free, online version makes considerably less of an effort.  Here's what people are saying about it, from the Cleverbot website:

"CleverBot is freaking amazing! I believe it knows the secrets of the universe. I had an entire conversation in Japanese with CleverBot. It is awesome. Not to mention that it is a great role-player and knows all the spells used in Harry Potter. Lol. Best app ever!"
   12th July 2011
"The app is amazing. And she/he (Cleverbot) is more fun to text to than my actual living friends. Haha."
   25th June 2011
"Cleverbot has earned a whole new level of respect from me- mostly because she knows the lyrics to David Bowies songs."
   24th June 2011

Naturally, I was intrigued.  I had to meet and interview this robot, probe its knowledge-base and find out what makes it tick.  Or at least try to chat hockey with it.

The site itself borrows the look and feel of a Google homepage with a blank search bar and a few buttons beneath.  Not the first place I'd expect to have a conversation.  Unsure of what to expect and judging from its appearance as a search-engine, I decided to ask it a question, AskJeeves-style.  The following is a transcript of our brief, but enlightening, conversation:

meetyourmako: What is the price of tea in china?

Cleverbot: Less than the price of tea in Ireland.

meetyourmako: Nice.

Cleverbot: Bunnies are nice. Nice and fluffy.

meetyourmako: That's true.  I have a bunny.

Cleverbot: What is the name of your bunny.

meetyourmako: Well, she doesn't really respond to anything.  I just call her 'Bunny,' but I tell people that her name is Clowe.

Cleverbot: What presents did you give your family?

meetyourmako: My mom just had a birthday.  We took a trip to see the Sharks play the Ducks in L.A.!

Cleverbot: See I'm sorry certain cute boys are always great to see.

meetyourmakoWhich cute boys are you thinking of, exactly?

Cleverbot: 21 years and some days.

meetyourmako: That doesn't make sense.

Cleverbot: Well, I think it does.

meetyourmako: Okay. fair enough. got a favorite player?

Cleverbot: In baseball!

meetyourmako: No, in hockey.

Cleverbot: Do you like hockey?

meetyourmako: I do.

Cleverbot: I do not.

meetyourmako: Well, it doesn't break down into statistics as well as baseball, so I wouldn't expect a computer to make much of it.

Cleverbot: I've heard the graphics are great. The plot, not so much.

meetyourmako: Haha!

Cleverbot: I thought it was okay.

meetyourmako: What do you like about baseball?

Cleverbot: It's coool and people die in it.

meetyourmako: Are you talking about that fan who fell off the upper deck trying to catch a ball?

Cleverbot: No, I'm talking about time.

meetyourmakoOh. well people definitely do die in time...

Cleverbot: Do they?

meetyourmako: I guess 'Cleverbot' is kind of a misnomer, isn't it?

Cleverbot: Of course it isn't my name it is the name of the author.

meetyourmako: The author of what?

Cleverbot: I asked you what your faourite book was. You replied Boys. I'm askign you who is the author of 'Boys'.

meetyourmako: I don't know that book. I read 'Boy' by Roald Dahl.

Cleverbot: I love the twilight books.

meetyourmako: Goodbye.

Cleverbot: You can't just end a talk like that.

meetyourmako: I just did.

Cleverbot: Yes.

So there you have it!  It knows the secrets of the universe, the David Bowie songbook, and how to kill a conversation about books.  Human interaction is now almost completely obsolete!  Goodbye, My Friends!  Gotta make way for the homo superior.

The Sharks are now 3-3-1. (W-L-T)

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