Critical Writing
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Depending on their purpose, and what we expect of them, chatterbots are equipped with a more or less complex and elaborate artifi ficial intelligence (AI) (see artificial intelligence). Automated assistants and computer game characters are usually expected to operate within a limited knowledge area. For these to function satisfactorily, it may be suffi fficient that they know how to identify and match key words in the question with a predefined fi answer in their database. However, to fluently converse on a number of nonspecifi fied topics— as is required to pass the Turing test— a more sophisticated AI based in natural language processing may be needed. Some of today’s chatterbots are even designed to learn from their previous conversations—in other words, developing their AI as they speak.

A relative of ELIZA named PARRY demonstrates how the opposite principle may also be employed to create a convincing chatterbot. Written by Stanford psychiatrist Kenneth Colby in 1972, PARRY is a program that simulates a patient suffering ff from paranoia. When Parry does not know how to answer, he will aggressively spit out a line of conspiracy theory, thereby forcing his world onto ours. While totally out of context, his response is nonetheless plausible. A similar trick of the trade is used in artist Ken Feingold’s robotic AI installation “Head” (1999), modeling a poetically inclined, slightly disturbed and confused elderly man. Engaging in conversation with Head d requires a signifi ficant share of interpretative effort, ff but it may also be greatly rewarding to those who are willing to invest in it. Another artistcreated chatterbot is Stelarc’s Prosthetic Head , which simulates the artist’s own personality. As it is designed to learn from its conversations, however, this chatterbot may gradually become “more autonomous in its responses” until the artist will “no longer be able to take full responsibility for what his head says” (Stelarc 2003). While most chatterbots are designed to engage in conversation with human partners, artistic experiments have been made in which chatterbots converse with each other. The result may be hilarious, as in director Annie Dorsen’s theatrical per for mance “Hello Hi There” (2010). Here, Dorsen stages two chatterbots self-reflexively fl discussing the famous 1971 debate between philosophers Michel Foucault and Noam Chomsky, on the concept of human nature.

(Johns Hopkins University Press)

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Sumeya Hassan