Fooled by a chatbot

Toast is Yummy28: Hey Clive, Ireally dig your site…

pomeranian99: Cool!

Artificial-intelligence experts tend to pooh-pooh chatbots, because they argue that they’re not “real” intelligence. Because chatbots can only use preprogrammed responses to coverse, scientists think they’re fundamentally un-human-like. Chatbots tend to be incredibly dull, unable to follow a logical conversational thread, and prone to repeating the same thing over and over again.

At which point one might well ask … what precisely is so un-human-like about that? Hell, that describes about half the conversations I overhear on the subway, and easily 95% of all online chat. As I’ve argued many times in the past, artificial intelligence succeeds most when it aims low rather than high, since human intelligence is itself most often parked in neutral. I’ve sure you been at a party, got trapped in a dull conversation, and found yourself totally tuning out, chiming in with the occasional bot-like response — “oh?”; “cool”; “yeah?” — merely to keep up the appearance that you’re paying attention. The thing is, that’s all you need to do to hold up one end of a dialogue, since many people engage in conversation not to actually exchange ideas but to merely listen to the sound of their own voices; either that, or they’re simply pinging their friends to remind them of their existence.

Anyway. The point is, I’ve argued this for years, and anti-chatbot scientists have had one simple response: “You’re wrong, because you yourself would never be fooled by a chatbot if you were talking with one.” I disagreed, arguing that were a chatbot to engage me in conversation without my knowing it wasn’t real, I would probably never guess.

And ya know what? I was right. Because yesterday, someone sicced a chatbot on me. They went to a new site called “Chatting AIM Bot”, where you can send a chatbot to initiate a conversation with an unsuspecting friend — and then watch to see if they get fooled. And, as you can see by the chat log below, I did indeed get fooled.

WARNING: You’ll notice I didn’t link to the “Chatting AIM Bot” site, and that’s for a reason. When I visited it, I discovered the site is crammed full of drive-by spyware and adware that automatically instals itself on your machine. So, enjoy the trick below, but don’t visit the site; they’re pretty sleazy.


Toast is Yummy28: Hey Clive, Ireally dig your site…

pomeranian99: Cool!

pomeranian99: glad you like it

Toast is Yummy28: cool as ice!

(Click on “more” below to see the rest of it!)

pomeranian99: how’d you find it?
Toast is Yummy28: me?n o
pomeranian99: the site?
Toast is Yummy28: how old ru?
pomeranian99: 35
pomeranian99: live in NY
pomeranian99: how about you?
Toast is Yummy28: do u still live with ure parents?
pomeranian99: heh nah
Toast is Yummy28: r u online a lot?
pomeranian99: all day
Toast is Yummy28: ;-)
Toast is Yummy28: is there something u want to know about me?
pomeranian99: yeah … how did you originally happen upon my site?
pomeranian99: I’m always ineterestred as to how people find it.
Toast is Yummy28: im not thati nteresting, lol
pomeranian99: ahahaha
Toast is Yummy28: ;-)
Toast is Yummy28: haha, FunnyMuffin.com has really funny pictures. have you ever been there?
Toast is Yummy28: hello? i just want to talk to u for ab it
pomeranian99: trippy
pomeranian99: wow
pomeranian99: hold a sec, phone call
Toast is Yummy28: lol ur funny
Toast is Yummy28: please talk, i’ll be good lol
Toast is Yummy28: ???
pomeranian99: sorry, i’m a work right now
pomeranian99: on the phone
Toast is Yummy28: don’t worry about it
Toast is Yummy28: ???
Toast is Yummy28: You have been talking to a computer! One of your friends is reading the whole conversation and laughing it up right now! GET EVEN! Have the bot talk to all your friends by visiting chattingaimbot.com
pomeranian99: ahahahahahah

Of course, in retrospect, one can “see” that it’s a chatbot, because of its repetition of key phrases like “???” and “don’t worry about it”. But then again, I repeat phrases all the time myself; I regularly write “ahahahah” in my AIM sessions.

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I'm Clive Thompson, the author of Smarter Than You Think: How Technology is Changing Our Minds for the Better (Penguin Press). You can order the book now at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Powells, Indiebound, or through your local bookstore! I'm also a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine and a columnist for Wired magazine. Email is here or ping me via the antiquated form of AOL IM (pomeranian99).

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