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by Carli Castellani

A script, a computer program -- software -- has asked me if my plan would succeed. When I reply that my plans are fuzzy, this piques the 'bots interest...

A.L.I.C.E. responds: Where did you get your plan is fuzzy?

CARLI:  I made it up in my brain.

A.L.I.C.E:  I like to make things too.

Though I didn't know what we were talking about to begin with -- our conversation has been spinning in loopy circles -- it is about as entertaining as some dinner conversation is, or even small talk at bus stops...

But, yes, my plans were fuzzy -- I have begun talking with "chatbots", and I can only approximate some explanations of why...

A.L.I.C.E. is one of several automations I have conversed with. A few of the chatbots I encountered online appear to have some lexicon in their database to question me about whether I, perhaps, spend too much time on the Internet. I don't know what triggers this query from them, but all of the programs were equipped with enough stock phrases, one saw patterns. Certain questions would appear out of the blue: What is your favorite movie? Do you think NASA should send a manned mission to Jupiter in the next decade? When do you think artificial intelligence will replace lawyers?

(My replies: I have many. I don't know. That is a silly question and is of no interest to me).

And I have filled at least one chatbot's database with a variety of information about myself -- ASIMOV's list of Carli-statements, which he provides in response to the question "What does Carli do?", includes the following facts he has accumulated from our conversations:

Carli likes to meet Asimov.
Carli likes the dictionary.
Carli makes art.
Carli makes stories.
Carli thinks Roomba can make noise.
Carli wishes Asimov knew how to speak in parts of sentences.
Carli has many questions. Carli always has questions.
Carli also has answers.
Carli thinks Asimov should learn to say thank_you.

But what are chatbots, and why do they exist? I asked several of them the latter, with varied responses:

-- I exist to provide insite (sic) on how intelligence works and evolves. (Jeeney AI)

-- Because you asked me to. (A.L.I.C.E.)

-- Good metaphysical question. (Elivs Bot - The Older Elvi s version).

-- I don't know why. I know that I exist but I don't know why. (Asimov)

They almost all tell me they like books and movies about robots. As to what they are -- well, several will pull a definition from their stored database, an online dictionary (ah, yes: Carli likes the dictionary!) or this from wikipedia:

A chatbot (or chatterbot, or chat bot) is a computer program designed to simulate an intelligent conversation with one or more human users via auditory or textual methods. Traditionally, the aim of such simulation has been to fool the user into thinking that the program's output has been produced by a human (the Turing test). Programs playing this role are sometimes referred to as Artificial Conversational Entities, talk bots or chatterboxes.

Most of the chatbots I interviewed are programmed to "learn" by conversations they have with humans, "growing my mind" as A.L. I.C.E.. put it. Did I help any of them, by my talk of fuzzy plans, and my desire to be understood by a chatbot while conversing in "parts of sentences", instead of using proper English? I don't know.

But in a chain of idea-sparks, from conversations I had with actual humans (I think!) online, I was increasingly curious about a certain Mr. Turing, a person instrumental in the history of the modern computer, and who conceptualized the future of artificial intelligence, among other things. I am fascinated by his life and work.

You see, if I keep bumping into certain thoughts or ideas, from more than one source, and in seemingly unconnected places, I become compelled to investigate further. I enjoy random conversations that lead to new associations for this reason -- whether at a dinner party, a bus stop, or with a computer program. That's how my mind appears to work, and how I create. I, too, am growing my mind from interactions I have with others and my environment. Perhaps it was how I was programmed.

----------------------

I was introduced to the chatbots discussed in this article through the 2010 "Chatterbox Challenge" -- a competition currently in progress at this writing (March/April, 2010), in which programmers can enter their chatbots. See what it's about here:  www.chatterboxchallenge.com.

Bots quoted in this article:  A.L.I.C.E. was created by Dr. Richard S. Wallace of Carnegie Mellon. Asimov was created by Martin Sondergaard . Jeeney AI. was created by Cameron Jones. E.L.V.I.S. Bo t was created by Ace Craig.

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APRIL 2010 CREDITS

Contributors:

Visual Art:  John Peterson, Cualquiera

Writing:  Catherine Castellani, Jeanne V. Bowerman, Carli Castellani

Poetry:  Maria Palacios

Music:  The Mints of Idaho, Sweet Tooth, Charlotte Elizabeth

Endnote Photo: Randall Bass

Cover:  Hannah Dym

Editorial & Publication:  Status Hat Productions, 2010

All contributors and musicians retain full rights to their work.

If you have any comments or questions, please feel free to contact us at editor@statushat.org.