Does everyone on the Internet eventually turn into an asshole (See: YouTube comments)? Why do people feel the need to verbally abuse a robot? Have you ever been tricked into a conversation with a computer program…and enjoyed it?
Cleverbot, an Artificial Intelligence computer program developed by Icogno Founder Rollo Carpenter in 1988 and released to the masses in 1997, “learns” from Internet users. Everything that is put into the program is catalogued and eventually repeated as a response. You can imagine what kind of delightful conversations will result when the general population of the World Wide Web is given cart blanche to say anything and everything to a program that has no feelings or physical capabilities. An article from early 2010 seemed optimistic about Cleverbot’s abilities, claiming that “it may soon have a database of dialogue so complex that it can talk about any subject with anyone.” Of course, the same article described a conversation with Cleverbot as “like having a text conversation with a monkey,” which I tend to find more accurate.
I’ve been “chatting” with Cleverbot almost every day now, trying my absolute best to pry a decent, ongoing conversation from our strange encounters, but to no avail. And since—by design—Cleverbot only repeats previously entered comments, it forces us to wonder about the ramifications of personally conversing and interacting with a machine.
The popular radio program Radiolab recently tackled Cleverbot and Artificial Intelligence, starting off with an anecdote about a man who fell in love with a robot through an online dating site. The Artificial Intelligence program was so convincing that it wasn’t until the man invited his love interest to visit him, even scheduling time off from work for the visit, that their conversations started ringing strange in his head.
While many a science fiction fan secretly nestles a deep seeded fear of robots and the specter of Artificial Intelligence usurping human activity, there are some practical and positive aspects of robots that answer back to humans. Sophisticated, personalized interactions with search engines, telemarketers, and customer service representatives are just a few of the potential interactions we will have with Artifical Intelligence in the future. Though Cleverbot has hardly mastered the nuances of conversation, it could tell me, at least, the weather in Seattle and the capitol of Spain.
Cleverbot’s creator, Carpenter, envisions a world in which customer service calls will be received by robots who will do far more than ask for the last four digits of your social security number—they’ll be able to talk about the weather for your flight’s destination, or even solve problems. Artificial Intelligence, like many technological innovations that came before, will replace human jobs with machines—hopefully these machines will be smart enough that the job replacement will be accompanied by customers’ peace of mind. The machines will have to come a long way from Cleverbot for that to happen.