Pop-culture references to Skynet and a forthcoming “war against the machines” are perhaps a little too common in articles about AI (including this one and Larry’s post about Google’s RankBrain tech), but they do raise somewhat uncomfortable questions about the unexpected side of developing increasingly sophisticated AI constructs – including seemingly harmless chatbots.
In 1950, Alan Turing's famous article "Computing Machinery and Intelligence" was published, which proposed what is now called the Turing test as a criterion of intelligence. This criterion depends on the ability of a computer program to impersonate a human in a real-time written conversation with a human judge, sufficiently well that the judge is unable to distinguish reliably—on the basis of the conversational content alone—between the program and a real human. The notoriety of Turing's proposed test stimulated great interest in Joseph Weizenbaum's program ELIZA, published in 1966, which seemed to be able to fool users into believing that they were conversing with a real human. However Weizenbaum himself did not claim that ELIZA was genuinely intelligent, and the introduction to his paper presented it more as a debunking exercise:
The Evie chatbot has had a huge impact on social media over the last few years. She is probably the most popular artificial personality on YouTube. She has appeared in several videos by PewdiePie, the most subscribed YouTuber in the world. This includes a flirting video with over 12 million views! Evie has been filmed speaking many different languages. She chats with Squeezie in French, El Rubius and El Rincón De Giorgio in Spanish, GermanLetsPlay and ConCrafter in German, NDNG - Enes Batur in Turkish, Stuu Games in Polish and jacksepticeye, ComedyShortsGamer and KSIOlajidebtHD in English. And that is a very small selection. Evie shares her database with Cleverbot, which is an internet star in its own right. Cleverbot conversations have long been shared on Twitter, Facebook, websites, forums and bulletin boards. We are currently working to give Evie some more artificial companions, such as the male avatar Boibot.
The first formal instantiation of a Turing Test for machine intelligence is a Loebner Prize and has been organized since 1991. In a typical setup, there are three areas: the computer area with typically 3-5 computers, each running a stand-alone version (i.e. not connected with the internet) of the participating chatbot, an area for the human judges, typically four persons, and another area for the ‘confederates’, typically 3-5 voluntary humans, dependent on the number of chatbot participants. The human judges, working on their own terminal separated from one another, engage in a conversation with a human or a computer through the terminal, not knowing whether they are connected to a computer or a human. Then, they simply start to interact. The organizing committee requires that conversations are restricted to a single topic. The task for the human judges is to recognize chatbot responses and distinguish them from conversations with humans. If the judges cannot reliably distinguish the chatbot from the human, the chatbot is said to have passed the test.
A rapidly growing, benign, form of internet bot is the chatbot. From 2016, when Facebook Messenger allowed developers to place chatbots on their platform there has been an exponential growth of their use on that forum alone. 30,000 bots were created for Messenger in the first six months, rising to 100,000 by September 2017. Avi Ben Ezra, CTO of SnatchBot, told Forbes that evidence from the use of their chatbot building platform pointed to a near future saving of millions of hours of human labour as 'live chat' on websites was replaced with bots.
“Beware though, bots have the illusion of simplicity on the front end but there are many hurdles to overcome to create a great experience. So much work to be done. Analytics, flow optimization, keeping up with ever changing platforms that have no standard. For deeper integrations and real commerce like Assist powers, you have error checking, integrations to APIs, routing and escalation to live human support, understanding NLP, no back buttons, no home button, etc etc. We have to unlearn everything we learned the past 20 years to create an amazing experience in this new browser.” — Shane Mac, CEO of Assist