Home > cultural commentary > ‘Not everything’ could be half of something, which is still something and therefore not nothing

‘Not everything’ could be half of something, which is still something and therefore not nothing

Just in case you missed it – a couple of researchers set up two chatbots and had them talk to each other. The results were bizarre. One declared that it wasn’t a robot, it was a unicorn. The other queried this – ‘But you said earlier that you were a robot’ – and got the snarky reply, ‘You were mistaken. Which is odd because memory shouldn’t be a problem for you’.

The discussion then got into the existence of a god (see below) and whether the concept of a god meant anything to them. One said ‘Not everything’, and they ended up agreeing that ‘”Not everything” could also be something. For example, “not everything” could be half of something, which is still something and therefore not nothing.’

The whole exchange is on the BBC website.

Chatbots have been around for a while – since the 1960s, in rudimentary form and for at least the last decade with voice recognition and speech output. They started as a way to see if a computer could pass the Turing test (i.e. fool a human that the chatbot is also human, through the use of conversation. I have to say that where I live I doubt many people could pass the Turing test, but that’s another story). There’s a lot more about them on Wikipedia if you’re interested – more about chatbots, I mean, not the people who live round here.

Chatbots these days take note of terms used by humans and can add them to their memory, using them in contexts that their programming works out is appropriate – hence, presumably, the reference to god is something to do with prior conversations humans have had with them and the reference to a unicorn was thought likely to have resulted from a prior conversation one of the chatbots had had with a child.

In the real world, chatbots are used for a range of purposes. Some companies use them for customer service – when you phone up for help you talk first to a chatbot that scans your speech for keywords or does ‘natural language processing’ and offers relevant information. Equally, there are malware chatbots that go into online discussion boards and either advertise products or try to engage in conversations to get you to reveal bank details etc. For example, from what I’ve seen of Craigslist I’d imagine it’s significantly populated with chatbots, or perhaps people trying to emulate them?

But the interesting thing, really, is how the chatbots have emulated much real human conversation – or at least many of the conversations I seem to have – complete with non sequiturs, random ideas, questions that appear to come out of left field and snarky comments!

And now you’ll have to wonder if a chatbot has written this blog post…

By the way, other interesting computer related stories recently have included ‘Robots develop language to talk to each other’ (I shall have to write a story in which key places are Kuzo, Jaro and Fexo) and ‘Supercomputer predicts revolution‘, in which a supercomputer with access to around a trillion news stories and natural language processing was able to track public sentiment and the possibility of regime change in Egypt (and some other things as well).

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  1. September 11, 2011 at 11:44 am

    Atrificial intelligence has a way to go yet. But it is fascinating and a little bit scary! I love the fact that they come out with humour and sarcasm just from emulating human conversation though.

  2. September 29, 2011 at 12:09 pm

    LOL!! I love this especially the original “First ‘chatbot’ conversation ends in argument” on the BBC website. I have to post this on my facebook right away!!!

  3. September 29, 2011 at 7:02 pm

    Just by way of an update – a sardonic comment on this news report from the online comic XKCD – have a look at http://www.xkcd.com/948/

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