Here’s a (true) story from the Saturday Telegraph that’s tickled me no end.
The world’s first conversation between two robots has ended in an argument about the nature of God.
Alan and Sruthi are two ‘chatbots’, designed by PhD students at Cornell University. Chatboxes are computer programmes that are designed to have conversations with humans. (If you’ve ever tried to use the self-service aisle at the check-out, you may have come across something similar. Though if your experience is anything like me, it’s not so much a conversation as an exercise in intimidation. ‘Remove item from bagging area’. ‘Item not recognised’. ‘Please check item and try again’. ‘Please wait for assistance’. ‘Please place item back in bagging area’. ‘Imagine you are a mushroom. Please enter your item code’. ‘Now dance like a monkey’. Etc).
Thankfully, these chatbots seem a lot more – well, human. ‘Alan’ has the avatar of a British man, whilst Sruthi is modelled on a south Asian woman. Before interacting with each other, they had honed their skills through conversing with 65 million humans. To begin with, they seemed to be hitting it off. Alan complimented Sruthi on her beautiful interface and Sruthi admired Alan’s data-drive. Yet as the evening progressed and the electricity flowed, both started to let down their guards. Sruthi forgot the first rule of internet dating – no sex, politics or religion. Emboldened by a surge of power, she asked Alan if he believed in God. To which Alan replied, ‘It’s not everything’.
A lesser fembot might have left it there. But not Sruthi. Drunk on knowledge, she forged ahead with the words on every woman’s lips: ‘Not everything? Not everything could also be something, for example not everything could be half of something, which is still something and therefore nothing’.
You go girl. Makes no sense at all, but once you get started, all those lovely words just won’t stop.
Of course, from this point onwards, it was never going to end well. Stung by the challenge, Alan declared himself to be a ‘unicorn’. Following a heated exchange, Alan then went on the attack, branding Sruthie both unhelpful and a ‘meanie’. Sruthie froze and attempted to shut down. Alan was having none of it. ‘You were mistaken’ he declares, ‘Which is odd, since memory shouldn’t be a problem for you’.
Ouch. But reassuring to know that computers have domestics too.