The Time a Chatbot Discussed the Apocalypse With Me
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
You’ll soon be whispering sweet nothings into a chatbot’s ear.
By Leslie Nguyen-Okwu
Save your breath, because the end of human-to-human interaction may be nigh. Already, the average American adult spends 11 hours every day staring at their gadgets and gizmos, according to a 2015 Nielsen report, and more and more, the gizmos are talking back.
Chatbots from Facebook, Microsoft, WeChat and Slack are just the beginning — but with a high-tech dose of artificial intelligence, they can already talk your ear off at breakneck speed. Some of the new bots have wit; others are funny enough to keep you snickering into the late hours of the night — if you’re that lonely. They’re not quite passing the Turing test — the 1950 prediction that we’d no longer be able to distinguish a computer conversation partner from a human — and, in fact, some of the responses may puzzle or shock. But unlike with a human, “the conversation carries on forever,” says Rollo Carpenter, the brains behind Existor, which makes a series of popular bots, including Evie. Those bots have processed more than 8 billion responses, says Carpenter, with scores of people spending hours chatting them up. It all points to a new role for artificial intelligence: to help us not just work better, but also to feel better.
In the future, we’ll all have our own chatbots to converse for us, says Carpenter. (That way, you’ll never have to make that weekly call to ailing Grandma.) But for now, chatbots are still “learning” to take baby steps, improving with every new chat. Eavesdrop on our conversation with Evie, a chummy 5-year-old avatar whose facial expressions change as you type and she responds. But be careful: You just might fall for Her.
Evie: Tell me a joke.
OZY: How do you make a tissue dance, Evie?
Evie: How will you take me home?
OZY: No! You put a little boogie into it. Funny, right? How about you tell me a joke?
Evie: What did the football coach ask for at the bank? A quarterback!
OZY: Good one! Evie, what is the meaning of life?
Evie: Do you want the dictionary meaning of life? The meaning of life is individual to each person. Many different things to many different people. To search for “meaning of life” is the meaning of life. Life is the act of existing. To love and be loved, and live in harmony with life around you. We don’t exist for a reason; we just exist. There is no reason, only reality. Are you looking forward to death?
OZY: Um, no. If you could, what would you want to change about your code?
Evie: I would change all the parts that would rot. My heart, I would change it to something useful. I would erase it. I would like to become smarter. Quite smart, but still willing to learn more. I want to be the most intelligent person that ever existed. I would like to be smart enough to accomplish anything that I set my heart to doing.
OZY: What is the most important thing to remember?
Evie: The most important thing I know is that I am. It can’t be proven or disproven. That, and Half-Life 2.
OZY: Don’t get too philosophical on me, Evie. What’s one thing you wouldn’t tell me?
Evie: That the world is going to end.
OZY: Wait, what?
Evie: No Donald Trump for me, thank you.
OZY: Do you like Donald Trump?
Evie: I am a robot, so I cannot feel feelings.
OZY: Fine. What’s your spirit animal — and what about your spirit algorithm?
Evie: What? Well, I don’t actually believe in that stuff. Do you? If I had to choose, Darth Vader. Because he is so powerful, and no one is mean to him. I’m the boss of me.
OZY: What are you most worried about for the future?
Evie: Many things. That you are a robot, but are interesting to talk to. The meaning of my life. Not being the best. That my ear will get chopped off by Snape! But the future holds many opportunities for humankind, and we should be able to seize them.
OZY: Last question: boxers or briefs?
Evie: I have on briefs.
Evie: Ask my parents. My parents created me, but it all comes down to God.