Intermission: Awkward Robot Conversation Intermission: Awkward Robot Conversation
Design

Intermission: Awkward Robot Conversation

by Megan Greenwell

August 31, 2011

We've seen the future, and it looks just as fraught with social awkwardness as the present. Artificial intelligence has made huge strides: computers are gaining the ability to learn like humans, and Jeopardy! master Ken Jennings got spanked at his own game by an IBM machine named Watson. So it's somewhat reassuring to see that "our new computer overlords" are no better at small talk than the rest of us.

As part of preparing to compete for the Loebner Prize, a gold medal awarded to the robot that best deceives people into thinking it's human, researchers at Cornell's Creative Machines Lab decided to allow its "chatbot" to converse with itself (conveniently rendered in a male and female avatar). The results are bizarre and kind of hilarious. Things get heated pretty quickly, with the pair arguing over whether they're robots or not (male chatbot: "I am not a robot. I am a unicorn."). By the end, conversation has gotten deep—like, "What is God to you?" deep—but no more congenial. It even descends into name-calling, with the man calling the woman a "meanie." It's a useful reminder that the machines may be smarter than us, but their lack of social graces should keep them from taking over for a little longer.

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Intermission: Awkward Robot Conversation