Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Web Secret 484: Chatbots

When James Vlahos found out his father had terminal cancer, he decided to use cutting edge technology to preserve his memory in the form of a chatbot.

A chatbot, in case the definition has slipped your mind, is a computer program which conducts a conversation via auditory or textual methods.

Such programs are often designed to convincingly simulate how a human would behave as a conversational partner.

In a moving article in Wired magazine, A son's race to give his dying father artificial immortality, Vlahos describes his quest to create a chatbot that captures the spirit of his dad.

He decides to use software produced by PullString, a computer conversation company founded by alums of Pixar, to accomplish this.

He examines the morality of creating his Dadbot, even wondering, "In dark moments, I worry that I’ve invested hundreds of hours creating something that nobody, maybe not even I, will ultimately want."

He learns the limitations his Dadbot. And that teams of scientists are trying to win Amazon’s inaugural Alexa Prize, a $2.5 million payout to the competitors who come closest to the goal of building “a socialbot that can converse coherently and engagingly with humans on popular topics for 20 minutes.

After his father dies, Vlahos considers his accomplishment:

"The bot of the future...will be able to know the details of a person’s life far more robustly than my current creation does. It will converse in extended...exchanges, remembering what has been said and projecting where the conversation might be headed. The bot will mathematically model signature linguistic patterns and personality traits, allowing it not only to reproduce what a person has already said but also to generate new utterances. The bot... will even be emotionally perceptive."

He wonders, "Would I even want to talk to a perfected Dadbot? I think so, but I am far from sure."

In the end, when his young son asks to use the Dadbot, he concludes that the value of what he has created lies in preserving his father's memory for his descendants.

What say you, iWebU readers?

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