Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Bot or Not? by James Gleick | NYRblog | The New York Review of Books

Excerpt from a timely Twitter bot reality check

"Most of these bots have all the complexity of a wind-up toy. Yet they have the potential to influence the stock market and distort political discourse. The surprising thing—disturbing, if your human ego is easily bruised—is how few bells and gears have to be added to make a chatbot sound convincing. How much computational complexity is powering our own chattering mouths? The grandmother of all chatbots is the famous Eliza, described by Joseph Weizenbaum at MIT in a 1966 paper (yes, children, Eliza is fifty years old). His clever stroke was to give his program the conversational method of a psychotherapist: passive, listening, feeding back key words and phrases, egging on her poor subjects. “Tell me more.” “Why do you feel that way?” “What makes you think [X]?” “I am sorry to hear you are depressed.” Oddly, Weizenbaum was a skeptic about “artificial intelligence,” trying to push back against more optimistic colleagues. His point was that Eliza knew nothing, understood nothing. Still the conversations could run on at impressive length. Eliza’s interlocutors felt her empathy radiating forth. It makes you wonder how often real shrinks get away with leaving their brains on autopilot."
Bot or Not? by James Gleick | NYRblog | The New York Review of Books
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