The idea was to permit Tay to “learn” about the nuances of human conversation by monitoring and interacting with real people online. Unfortunately, it didn’t take long for Tay to figure out that Twitter is a towering garbage-fire of awfulness, which resulted in the Twitter bot claiming that “Hitler did nothing wrong,” using a wide range of colorful expletives, and encouraging casual drug use. While some of Tay’s tweets were “original,” in that Tay composed them itself, many were actually the result of the bot’s “repeat back to me” function, meaning users could literally make the poor bot say whatever disgusting remarks they wanted.
Chatbots – also known as “conversational agents” – are software applications that mimic written or spoken human speech for the purposes of simulating a conversation or interaction with a real person. There are two primary ways chatbots are offered to visitors: via web-based applications or standalone apps. Today, chatbots are used most commonly in the customer service space, assuming roles traditionally performed by living, breathing human beings such as Tier-1 support operatives and customer satisfaction reps.
Sometimes it is hard to discover if a conversational partner on the other end is a real person or a chatbot. In fact, it is getting harder as technology progresses. A well-known way to measure the chatbot intelligence in a more or less objective manner is the so-called Turing Test. This test determines how well a chatbot is capable of appearing like a real person by giving responses indistinguishable from a human’s response.
[In] artificial intelligence ... machines are made to behave in wondrous ways, often sufficient to dazzle even the most experienced observer. But once a particular program is unmasked, once its inner workings are explained ... its magic crumbles away; it stands revealed as a mere collection of procedures ... The observer says to himself "I could have written that". With that thought he moves the program in question from the shelf marked "intelligent", to that reserved for curios ... The object of this paper is to cause just such a re-evaluation of the program about to be "explained". Few programs ever needed it more.
ALICE – which stands for Artificial Linguistic Internet Computer Entity, an acronym that could have been lifted straight out of an episode of The X-Files – was developed and launched by creator Dr. Richard Wallace way back in the dark days of the early Internet in 1995. (As you can see in the image above, the website’s aesthetic remains virtually unchanged since that time, a powerful reminder of how far web design has come.)
In one particularly striking example of how this rather limited bot has made a major impact, U-Report sent a poll to users in Liberia about whether teachers were coercing students into sex in exchange for better grades. Approximately 86% of the 13,000 Liberian children U-Report polled responded that their teachers were engaged in this despicable practice, which resulted in a collaborative project between UNICEF and Liberia’s Minister of Education to put an end to it.
“It’s hard to balance that urge to just dogpile the latest thing when you’re feeling like there’s a land grab or gold rush about to happen all around you and that you might get left behind. But in the end quality wins out. Everyone will be better off if there’s laser focus on building great bot products that are meaningfully differentiated.” — Ryan Block, Cofounder of Begin.com