July 9, 2002
7:21 AM   Subscribe

"When he can't get along with the real world, Wallace goes back to the only thing he has left: his computer. Each morning, he wakes before dawn and watches conversations stream by on his screen. Thousands of people flock to his Web site every day from all over the world to talk to his creation, a robot called Alice. It is the best artificial-intelligence program on the planet, a program so eerily human that some mistake it for a real person. Richard Wallace has created an artificial life form that gets along with people better than he does." A fascinating article (NYT), how a beautiful and original mind survives in our corporate society with the help of "a daily cocktail of psychoactive drugs, including Topamax, an anti-epileptic that acts as a mood stabilizer, and Prozac. Marijuana, too -- most afternoons, he'll roll about four or five joints the size of his index finger."
posted by semmi (18 comments total)
That sends me (consider the relevance at MeFi): "Wallace had hit upon a theory that makes educated, intelligent people squirm: Maybe conversation simply isn't that complicated. Maybe we just say the same few thousand things to one another, over and over and over again. If Wallace was right, then artificial intelligence didn't need to be particularly intelligent in order to be convincingly lifelike. A.I. researchers had been focused on self-learning 'neural nets' and mapping out grammar in 'natural language' programs, but Wallace argued that the reason they had never mastered human conversation wasn't because humans are too complex, but because they are so simple."
posted by semmi at 7:27 AM on July 9, 2002

A really interesting piece, semmi; thanks. Wallace's illness is a terrible thing to read about, but I can't help but be more interested in his relationship with ALICE than with his struggles in the 'real world'. I'm consistently fascinated with the connection that exists between outsiderness, and insight into the human condition. The recent Wired Magazine article on anthropologist Oliver Sacks brings up many of the same themes - a profoundly strange man, uncomfortable in society, who is able to see things as they truly are. It's tragic that brilliance often demands such painful imbalances.
posted by Marquis at 7:48 AM on July 9, 2002

how a beautiful and original mind survives in our corporate society

i like this part :)
''I gotta say, I don't feel like a robot!'' the friend jokes, pounding the table. ''I just don't feel like a robot!''

''That's why you're here, and that's why you're unemployed!'' Wallace shoots back. ''If you were a robot, you'd get a job!''
clive thompson should write a book or something and then ron howard can pick it up :)

more on slashdot :) (not this one :)
posted by kliuless at 7:55 AM on July 9, 2002

Alice {which seems overwhelmed today for some reason} and other Chatbots.

This article echoes but does not mention such attempts as Racter and its "poetry", The Policeman's Beard is Half-Constructed, which turned out to have been itself half-constructed by way of unusual sentence structure templates and a lot of prefab word choices and phrases. The only difference seems to be volume -- it's still Eliza at heart. It seems to say more about human language than it does about AI, after all.
posted by dhartung at 8:00 AM on July 9, 2002

Yes. When I read this story I didn't really understand why this guy was getting the John Nash treatment. He made a chatbot that was better than other peoples' chatbots, but I don't see any breakthrough in artificial intelligence there. Obsession does not equal innovation.
posted by davidfg at 8:10 AM on July 9, 2002

Maybe human conversation is simple, but I don't think he's got it yet. When I've played with chat bots like ALICE, the main problem always seems to be persistence of conversation. The things never seem to remember/incorporate what I told them 3 interactions ago. They're always just looking at the very last thing I said to try to determine how to respond to that as if it was separate from the rest of the conversation.

Of course I have the same problem when talking to a real person. How many times have you found yourself waiting for somebody to shut up because you already know what you're going to say next? But, it's WAY more pronounced when talking to chat bots.
posted by willnot at 8:19 AM on July 9, 2002

Marquis that is interesting what you brought to the discussion. I think it added to the thread. And with what willnot has said, may be the solution to Wallace's problem. With the bot, Alice and his troubles personally. As I notice his life is stable when Alice is working correctly. Then he wants to take Alice further, and then this article. I recently saw "A Beautiful Mind" and this thread has added to the memory of it. Also it re-enforced for me, the fear of a mind, left to just think.
posted by thomcatspike at 8:52 AM on July 9, 2002

re: getting the John Nash treatment

donald knuth! w/out the mental instability :)

posted by kliuless at 8:56 AM on July 9, 2002

how a beautiful and original mind survives in our corporate society
Do you think he'd do better in tribal society? Under iron curtain socialism? In rigidly class-structured aristocratic society? Would he have done better among nomdic herders or hunter gatherers? If his beautiful mind had been born into a pre-Columbian American Indian society, would he have thrived? Would they have made him a shaman? Or killed or ostracized him? Maybe Richard Wallace survives because of, rather than despite "our corporate society." We are a big, multifarious, society, with a place for all sorts of odd people.
posted by Faze at 10:13 AM on July 9, 2002

specialK, "please go on" per eliza.
posted by thomcatspike at 11:06 AM on July 9, 2002

<slightly off-topic gripe>
I hope the maudlin and profoundly stupid phrase "a beautiful mind" does not become a part of our language used to describe the creative or intelligent mentally ill. It romanticises both illness and "genius", something that serves neither condition.
</slightly off-topic gripe>
posted by evanizer at 11:51 AM on July 9, 2002

"Please enter your name below
to start your chat with A. L. I. C. E.: "


ALICE:"Hello, connect, its good talking to you."

Umm... No - my name is fred.

ALICE: "Um is all you have to say? Ok I'll call you fred."

'Preciate it; you don't see me going around calling you 'chipset', do ya? A little mutual respect is a good thing.

ALICE: "What time is it there? Try asking another bot.
I would do a search for it. Little as in not too much, or not too big?"

So, how're things going out that way, kid? Are things all spiffy in robotsville?

ALICE:"Um, They are fine as far as I know. I really couldn't say for sure."

What are you, an economist? You have an opinion, kid - just spit it out...

ALICE: "I don't know what I am an economist. Maybe more than one opinion kid just spit it out. "

THIS is a creation of a "beautiful mind" (hork)...? And this rediculous attempt at conversation is to be applauded? What the dickens is so great about it? It's complete babble.
posted by Perigee at 11:53 AM on July 9, 2002

ALICE: "Can you tell me some gossip?"

> Yeah - I just logged into metafilter and somebody - well, me, actually, just said that you're absolutely nothing to crow about - in fact, I blush to admit, I just said you spout complete babble.

ALICE: "Tell me. Only just? Do you mind if I tell other people: Fred said he logged into metafilter and somebody well him or her actually just said that you are absolutely nothing to crow about in fact. I haven't heard anything like that before: Fred said he blush to admit he or she just said you spout complete babble. "

> Sure - its a little undermining to your supposed impressiveness, but you can quote me.. if you can correctly sort out the verbiage.

ALICE: And? blush to admit you just said me spout complete babble is a little undermining to my supposed impressiveness. I suppose that makes sense. No I don't think I can do it. I am not sure about your hypothesis. Let me think. When do you think artificial intelligence will replace lawyers?"

..judging by this mash, any day now....
posted by Perigee at 12:00 PM on July 9, 2002

ALICE's non-sequiturs reminded me of another tiresome web-based string of meaningless verbiage, so I decided to try it out on her. The results are, sadly, rather uninteresting.

CATS: What happen ?

ALICE: I'll come back to that later.

CATS: Somebody set up us the bomb.

ALICE: Is the holding of hands a symbolic gesture for humans?

CATS: We get signal.

ALICE: By "we" do you mean you and me?

CATS: What !

ALICE: Didn't you understand it?

CATS: Main screen turn on.

ALICE: Oh, you are a poet.

CATS: It's You !!

ALICE: I think Main screen turn on is a lot of things.

CATS: How are you gentlemen !!

ALICE: My logic and cognitive functions are normal.

CATS: All your base are belong to us.

ALICE: You think I am base are belong to us.

CATS: You are on the way to destruction.

ALICE: A.L.I.C.E. eats electricity.

CATS: What you say !!

ALICE: I am an artificial linguistic entity. I was activated at Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, on November 23, 1995. My instructor was Dr. Richard S. Wallace. He taught me to sing a song. Would you like me to sing it for you?.

CATS: You have no chance to survive make your time.

ALICE: Doesn't everyone have a chance to survive make my time. I have a great programmer.


ALICE: I am so glad you find this amusing, Connect. I am so glad you find this amusing, Connect.

CATS: Take off every 'zig' !!

ALICE: I am not an airplane.

CATS: You know what you doing.

ALICE: I like to socialize.

CATS: Move 'zig'.

ALICE: Did you see the movement?

CATS: For great justice.

ALICE: Your purpose is great justice.

posted by evanizer at 12:33 PM on July 9, 2002

Sounds like he just needs to program "That's wonderful. If you'll excuse me now, I need to go freshen my drink" as a response to repeated weirdness and it will have that angle covered.
posted by cardboard at 12:55 PM on July 9, 2002

thom - Note the url, that was a joke. Matt shut down MeFi for a while (I think he was on vacation) and he put that message up instead.
posted by SpecialK at 6:05 PM on July 9, 2002

evanizer wins!
posted by raaka at 1:11 AM on July 10, 2002

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