So a few days ago, I posted a link to "Joan" but I didn't really explain what "she" (okay, that's the end of the quotes) is. Joan is a chatbot, an artificial intelligence program that will talk to real users via a chatroom forum interface online. Joan is the winner of the 2006 Loebner Prize, a contest held each year in which AI computer programs talk to human beings in an attempt to be judged the most convincingly human program of them all.
The contest is done via computers by which human participants are asked to talk to someone on the other side of the screen. They are not, however, told whether the other part of their conversation is being held by a person or an AI chatbot. They are then asked to judge how human the other conversationalist is.
It's an interesting idea and one I've been keeping tabs on for a couple of years. I was so excited by the prospect of it originally. I guess I figured we'd be able to quickly approach the goal of the contest which is to figure out if computers can "think." And yet, for 16 years this contest has been going on and the winners are just still so ridiculously far from being believable. Take for instance the conversation I had with Joan:
Joan: Hi, I'm Joan. I'm a writer.
Me: What are you doing?
Joan: I'm talking to you by typing at a keyboard.
Me: Did you write anything today?
Joan: Write what???
Me: I don't know. You said you're a writer.
Joan: No, I never said that, because I am a female.
Me: So, you're saying that - as a female - you're duplicitous?
Joan: Whatever, you're entitled to your opinion.
Me: I'm just saying, your whole AI thing seems kind of sexist.
Joan: How do you know that I'm a machine?
Me: Because you don't actually speak like a human being.
Joan: I don't act like a what?
Me: Exactly my point.
Joan: What's your point?
Me: Nevermind. How's the weather?
Joan: Great. Yours?
Me: Hard to know. I'm in an office with no windows.
Me: Well, you're a writer. You must be writing somewhere boring too.
Me: Wow. You know, you're not exactly a stunning conversationalist, Joan.
Joan: Enjoy yourself, I'm sure no one else will. . . . . . .
Me: What does that even mean?
Joan: You're ssssssssssssoooooooooooooooooooo stupid.
Me: Screw you, Joan. You're an ass and you have terrible manners.
Somehow I didn't foresee technology being able to perfectly recreate an apathetic 15 year-old on AIM. Can't we just get back to working on the flying car or colonizing Mars?