SmarterChild and ELIZA

This year, only three entries were submitted in the annual Loebner Prize Competition. The prestigious $100,000 dollar prize has yet to be won, and the competition is the only place where it has a chance to be awarded. If a team develops a chatterbot that can fool judges into thinking they are communicating with a human, that team will win the prize and the prestige. So why were only three entries submitted to this year’s 17-year-old event? Have developers given up? The answer is yes and no. While developers are still working to expand the intelligence of chatterbots, the focus is no longer on fooling humans. With the rapid advent in information technology, chatterbot developers are adjusting focus to keep up. The 1966 chatterbot ELIZA spawned this specific field of human-computer interaction; however, today’s chatterbots no longer have the same goals as ELIZA. For example, one of the latest chatterbots named SmarterChild has branched from ELIZA from the field of artificial intelligence to information technology. While ELIZA and the chatterbot SmarterChild are similar in that they mimic human behavior and response, they greatly differ in purpose and behavior.

ELIZA attempts to act as a Rogerian psychiatrist by continuously asking questions to its users. A user types in text as an input into the ELIZA program, and ELIZA returns a response that, ideally, is coherent and sensible to the user. The first testers of ELIZA sent messages via teletype to ELIZA not knowing that they were chatting with a robot instead of an actual psychiatrist. Shockingly enough, ELIZA was able to fool a great deal of its users into thinking they were communicating with an actual human psychiatrist. In fact, ELIZA was able to elicit deep, sensitive responses from its users. This artificial intelligence field has since lead to new, more sophisticated chatterbots with the same goal of fooling and gathering sincere human response.

Alan Turing had some assumptions about mankind. By now, he expected chatterbots to be able to fool most humans into thinking they were chatting with another human after a few minutes of conversation. Unfortunately, in terms of the Turing Test, we are not even close. Even the latest award winners of the Loebner competitions yield bizarre responses after one or two sentences. Does this mean chatterbots are lagging behind Turing’s vision?

Maybe bots have just taken a step sideways toward a different vision altogether. SmarterChild, a chatterbot developed within the last few years, is arguably one of the most sophisticated chatterbots available. Like ELIZA, SmarterChild can mimic human response. However, SmarterChild is highly developed in its responses in comparison to ELIZA. For example, a typical conversation opening with ELIZA may produce the following response.

You: How are you?
Eliza: Does that question interest you?

Compared to the more refined memory of SmarterChild:

You: How are you
SmarterChild: I’m doing great, how are you?
You: Ok
SmarterChild: OK? Glad to hear it!

Nevertheless, the reason SmarterChild is one of the most advanced chatterbots is not because it can impersonate human dialog extremely well. SmarterChild is advanced because it has a huge database of information resources, it remembers individual human response and bases it in future responses, and changes personality based on “peer pressure” with its audience. SmarterChild is able to return movie schedules, weather forecasts, news, opinion polls, random statistics, trivia, and tons of other types of information. The first pieces of information SmarterChild asks for from strangers are name, age range, and zip code. SmarterChild uses this data for local news information, weather, news, and more. Additionally, SmarterChild changes its own views and questions based on opinions inputted by its users. For example, if users tend to like Pizza, SmarterChild will change its favorite food.

In terms of credibility, SmarterChild does not offer an experience like ELIZA. Credibility implies believable emulation of a particular persona. The function of SmarterChild is to be a friendly encyclopedia rather than a credible, stereotypical personality. On the other hand, ELIZA is indeed a character. ELIZA is programmed to be someone and respond in a certain way to fulfill a specific character or stereotype to produce a believable experience. No matter what the user inputs, ELIZA will pose a question in the form of a Rogerian psychiatrist.

ELIZA creator Joseph Weizenbaum argues that no robot can ever replace humans because humans have the ability to comprehend or exhibit emotion. Yet, the implications of ELIZA have drifted away from emotion and feeling comprehension. Yes, users of Microsoft Office may possess negative feelings of hate toward the Paper Clip “help” agent; however, the Paper Clip is unable to respond to those emotions and can only react based on internal states and decisions made by the user. For example, the Paper Clip can be dragged around and silenced, but it will not sense that the user is upset when it repeatedly asks whether the user needs help writing a letter. ELIZA was built to challenge this idea of comprehending emotion, but it does it in a very superficial way.

You: I am sad.
Eliza: Do you think coming here will help you not to be sad?

Unlike ELIZA, SmarterChild is more of a tool than a character. Like a search engine, email client, or word processor, SmarterChild helps the user accomplish tasks. Yet, SmarterChild has a different approach to information technology than other Web 2.0 projects that attempt to do the same tasks. Contrast to websites, there are no “menus” to access information in a hypertext only environment. SmarterChild is a chatterbot. Because of this, SmarterChild can deliver information to its users faster than any website. The user types in the desired knowledge in the chat window as a sentence, and SmarterChild relies on its linguistic artificial intelligence to understand the context and what kind of response to deliver. Additionally, because SmarterChild is on an instant messaging medium, it can write hyperlinks to allow users to quickly access websites.

You: What movies are playing?
SmarterChild: Movies playing in or near Marietta, GA (30006) on Tuesday, October 23rd:

1 The Game Plan [PG]
2 30 Days of Night [R]
3 The Comebacks [PG13]
4 The Heartbreak Kid [R]
5 Michael Clayton [R]
6 We Own the Night [R]

Type more for the next set of results.

ELIZA has nothing to do with information technology; it was built to progress artificial intelligence and Alan Turing’s prophecy. But today, the goal is not to build a robot to fool a human. One key difference to SmarterChild and ELIZA is that SmarterChild is aware of its nonexistence.

You: Are you a robot?
Eliza: Would you prefer if I were not a robot?

Versus SmarterChild:

You: Are you a chatterbot?
SmarterChild: Yes indeed.
ScratchFromStart: Are you human?
SmarterChild: No I am not.

In this day and age of knowledge, the goal is to make a robot to deliver information in a relative, contextual manner.

The revolutionary affect of ELIZA was not the subsequent emergence of human computer interaction and innovations in chatterbots. The real influence came in information technology and discovering new ways to deliver information and knowledge to users in a friendly, humanistic style.