January 29, 2018
If you ask your Amazon Alexa what her favorite song is, she might say “Respect, by Aretha Franklin” then a week later her answer is “Acid Rain, by Chance the Rapper”. These responses are slightly extraneous and we don’t get the sense that Alexa really has a personality.
Talking to a chatbot can feel slightly disingenuous. After all, you’re talking to a computer. Chatbots don’t really chat. They prove to be useful when asking for the headlines, weather or to find the right insurance plan, but they don’t really have personality. They typically respond with pre-programmed phases. However, Facebook engineers are looking to possibly change that.
Giving Chatbots Personalities through Data
Engadget reports Facebook’s artificial intelligence team is programming chatbots to look for patterns in over 164,000 utterances. The data set, known as Persona-Chat, contains patterns consistent for a given personality from biographical statements such as hometown, upbringing, etc. to individual preferences like music or food. A lot of chatbots are programmed for conversation from movie scripts! While the dialogue can provide some color and personality, it can also lead chatbots to provide nonsensical responses. The chatbots tested by Facebook have proved to be more fluent and engaging but still couldn’t pass the Turing Test.
The Turing Test
The Turing Test, developed by Alan Turing in 1950, tests a machine’s ability to mimic intelligent behavior indistinguishable from a human. If a human evaluator cannot tell the difference between a human or computer, then the computer passes the test. This requires that the computer exhibits natural fluency and would require some kind of personality. Turing essentially wanted to know if computers could think. Given the state of computers in 1950, the Turing Test was an incredibly advanced query. It is still disputed today whether or not any computers have passed the test. However, debate over the matter reveals that they’re getting close.
The Future of Facebook Chatbots
The Facebook project after all is research. It still remains to be seen if the findings from this project will apply to existing chatbots or messenger services as the company’s chatbot program has delivered mixed results. With the level of investment in R&D going into AI and chatbots, it’s hard to imagine this project will merely serve inquisitiveness. As AI advances and potentially lends chatbots personalities, users can expect bots to do more than just small talk. Whether chatbots will simply become more helpful or evolve into Spike Jonze’s “Her” will depend on the pace of advancements in AI coupled with consumer demand.