back to article El Reg drills into chatbot hype: The AIs that want to be your web butlers

“Alexa, are you the best chatbot in town?” “Sorry, I don’t understand the question I heard,” she replies. Alexa doesn’t know. Nobody does. For a while, Apple had the lead with Siri: the virtual assistant first appeared in October 2011 on the iPhone 4S. Fast-forward five and a bit years and now every major tech player has one …

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> Amazon is luring AI students with the promise of cash prizes if they find ways to make Alexa smarter.

There's this problem right? These people probably don't know 90% of what has come before (and are probably dissing 5% of the rest because they don't understand it). Getting up to speed will take another 20 years of hard work. So the result of dumbly enabling "AI students" will be another hacked bot that will land on the trash heap of failed hope.

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Dystopian future

The more I hear about the possible uses of AI, the more I think the future will be like this:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PNw95c75g7o

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Dystopian future

I wonder if we really need it at all :-)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LXzJR7K0wK0

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IT Angle

On a tangential topic...

What are we going to do about the people who consistently fail the Turing test?

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Re: On a tangential topic...

Put them in government, it seems.

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Re: On a tangential topic...

Put them in government, it seems. on help desks.

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Re: On a tangential topic...

Give them journalists jobs

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Everything is Advertising

The software analyzes the content of chatter to recognize what and when to advertise, and it's an obvious step towards monetizing chatbots.

I should have realised...

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Re: Everything is Advertising

I seriously want meet this Gailey guy who wants to insert ' relevant' chat ads into a conversation.

I would like to discuss his ideas while slapping him upside the head with the whole of the Oxford dictionary in a very large sock.

Needless to say, if chatbots really take off, it won't be with me.

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LDS
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Re: Everything is Advertising

He will find soon very few people will use a chatbot that is trying to throw ads at you. Exactly because spoken conversations have one dimension only, ads will only get in the way (just like a person who litters a conversation with irrelevant and out of scope observations).

Look at how ads works differently in a site/newspaper and a TV show. In the former case, you can skip them easily, in the latter you can't and find them far more intrusive - up to the point people pay those services that allow you to watch something without ads - but probably that's the model to monetize chatbots - want one without ads? Pay for it!

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Re: Everything is Advertising

"want one without ads>?"

No. And not with ads either.

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Re: Everything is Advertising

slipping ads into a conversation, reminded me of the film the Truman Show

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Unhappy

Re: Everything is Advertising

The ads will have to be subtle... like the "best coffee" example or "where's a good café near by?". The answer will need a bit of a look up for paid sponsors and offer one of them first. Then there will be the "you had coffee yesterday, can I recommend this place for coffee today?"

Yeah.. monetize and sell the hell out of everything instead of just information.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Everything is Advertising

I seriously want meet this Gailey guy who wants to insert ' relevant' chat ads into a conversation.

Instead of a small dustbin shaped robot called Alexa, he needs to focus on a shapely robotic sexbot, able to morph to the users preferences. If he can make one of them, then "she" can whisper sweet nothings promoting Google Adwords etc for all she wants, 'cos all I'll hear is nomnomnomnomnom.

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Two Ronnies

I'd like to see a chatbot that could follow an episode of the Two Ronnies without getting confused. A 'Turing Test' for chatbots maybe?

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Stop

Re: Two Ronnies

A chatbot designed on one side of the Atlantic won't behave naturally on the other.

How do you get a US bot to understand that "Mm, yeah, good idea" means "there's no way I'm doing that" or that "interesting..." means "I really want to be somewhere else."

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Re: Two Ronnies

How do you get a US bot to understand that... [X !⇒ X]

Does it matter if a US meatsack will not reliably understand it? There are universal and cultural aspects to understanding human communications. You train your chatbot to understand what you need it to understand. Just like you would a person.

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Re: Two Ronnies

Just the one Ronnie, but yeah, it will be some time until any kind of software can handle something like Four Candles.

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Unreal

It helps to train your model on large datasets containing real conversations such as online forums or movie scripts.

Few of those could be described as real conversations. What they've done is chosen texts they can scrape, where someone else has already done the effort-intensive work of typing for them.

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Re: Unreal

"where someone else has already done the effort-intensive work of typing for them."

And even that doesn't get them anywhere near coping with spoken language.

"Why is MySQL running slow?" vs "Why is my SQL running slow".

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Re: Unreal

Perhaps El Reg commentards could help to prepare a part of these forums and volunteer them for Chatbot training.

For example mention goatse evey time there is a mention of something not working.

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Re: Unreal

Yeah, using Twitter worked out really well. Huff Po

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Re: Unreal

The inclusion of amanfrommars contributions should help advance the science.

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Coat

Re: Unreal

@ Dr Syntax:

in both cases, Index!

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Metrics

"For a while, Apple had the lead with Siri: ..."

How was this determined? Specifications, measurements, standardised test procedures, etc ? Does anybody know what we want/need from a 'chatbot' and why?

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Re: Metrics

How was this determined? It came out before Cortana, Alexa, and Google [whatever the name of it this week is].

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Anonymous Coward

Alexa:

How can the workers seize the means of production?

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I was quite interested in the Echo...

So I stumped up £50 for a Dot and quickly found out that it is a pile of crap. It doesn't recognise half of what I ask it unless I talk to it like an utter simpleton, and only then if my question or request is worded in the way its algorithms are designed to process the input. Subsequently it has now been gathering dust on my kitchen shelf since before christmas - unplugged I might add.

I have better bots that respond much better and will always remain totally ad free - they are the wife and kids.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: I was quite interested in the Echo...

Damn, you got conned. Should have gone for the Furby instead.

Good call on the child labour though. Kids have the time and inclination to do tasks adults can't be bloody bothered with.

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Happy

Re: I was quite interested in the Echo...

"It doesn't recognise half of what I ask it unless I talk to it like an utter simpleton..."

Don't you get it?

That's the market they were aiming at, not someone with more than two brain cells.

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Coat

Re: I was quite interested in the Echo...

"So I stumped up £50 for a Dot and quickly found out that it is a pile of crap. It doesn't recognise half of what I ask it unless I talk to it like an utter simpleton, and only then if my question or request is worded in the way its algorithms are designed to process the input."

Have you considered hiring it out to work in an Indian call centre to make the money back?

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Re: I was quite interested in the Echo...

"I have better bots that respond much better and will always remain totally ad free - they are the wife and kids."

Really? Your kids never nag you into buying something (which is a definintion of 'advertising' as good as any other)?

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Re: I was quite interested in the Echo...

"Subsequently it has now been gathering dust on my kitchen shelf since before christmas - "

One of the advantages of buying over the interwebs is the rather good returns policy

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Is this what you meant?

"Rather than pull up your favorite news website, you'll simply ask out loud to your phone or speaker: what's happening in Linux today?"

ps -ef|more

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Mushroom

"At Radbots, Gailey and his team are interested in bridging the gap between chatbots and advertising: slipping ads into conversations when the AI feels it's relevant and least likely to irritate the user."

Oh, so that would be every neverday at 3:15 p.m.?

Are you f***ing serious? "Siri, will it rain tomorrow?" – "Sorry, Frank, I don't know, but did you know that Amazon has a special offer on umbrellas this week?" – "Siri, where can I buy a shotgun or a mallet?"

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"It’s a trillion-dollar industry"

Right off the bat that sounds suspiciously like the evaluations of the cost of virii or hacking, or pirate downloads.

Did someone ask RIAA for their evaluation on the subject ?

That said, I can imagine that getting into this industry, when it forms, will cost a pretty penny, but come on, AI doesn't exist and it didn't cost a trillion dollars (or bring that much money in) to launch Siri or Cortana or even both at the same time.

Tired of the hyperbole. Time to retire to the mountains and dig that gorram bear pit.

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Re: "It’s a trillion-dollar industry"

Hyperinflation.

At the that time it will cost a billion for daily bread and circuses.

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Picky, picky, and irrelevant:

'"But it’s still the beginning of the race so the jury’s still out,” Etzioni added.'

In other news, Secretariat was convicted of stalling by a jury of his peers, and given the horse-laugh.

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Facepalm

AI is a scam

"Chatbots could totally be a trillion-dollar industry"

Yeah, flights to mars could totally be a trillion-dollar industry, or a machine who could decipher what the missus want could totally be a trillion-dollar industry.

This is the best we can hope for AI and chatbots:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R40EG3AmDHs

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Coat

feeling lazy today:

Will just leave this here:

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Siri

"What's happening in Linux today?"

"Finally its on the desktop."

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"the fact that speech recognition systems perform slightly better than professional transcriptionists"

Has any one seen the subtitles on BBC News? They soooo funny at getting things wrong.

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Anonymous Coward

Two letter acronyms are going to fail...

3D? Failed in the 50s, and failed again in the naughties.

VR? About to fail.

AI? Lots more fail before it gets any better. And by better, I mean developed for an actual use by someone who's not trying to cleverly feed me an advert on a chunk of plastic, sand, and metal that I paid for already.

When I can pick up my device, look through the camera lens and have it augment actual useful info, rather than every coffee shop in a 100 mile radius, THEN we might be getting close to something useful.

I've had Siri for about a year. I used it once and now just set my own appointments with the iCloud apps directly. When it can do more than just offer simple suggestions, or unhelpful ones like "would you like me to search the web for that?" it would be ready for everyday use. I can't imagine what the lesser two voicebots are talking about, nor do I want to know. They are all lacking.

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Re: Two letter acronyms are going to fail...

Until Siri, Alexa, Cortana or "google" can provide guidance on answering the age old question posed by SWMBO "do these pants make my bum look big?" , they are dead to me. Siri just tried to tell me where I could buy pants when I asked her - sigh

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If your single and/or home alone or have your own office then talking to a bot to get info might make sense.

For the rest of the world what bloody use are they?

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Trollface

I see your problem

"The real prize, however, is the bonus $1m that will be given if the winning team shows that their chatbot can speak 'coherently and engagingly with humans on popular topics for 20 minutes.'"

The chatbot is being written by software engineers. Does anyone but me see the problem here?

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Re: I see your problem

And how many of these aspiring software engineers are from India or China?

Now you know why Alexa is only competent enough to be a call centre rep in India reading from a script.

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too much to ask?

Chatbots/personal assistant will reach usable level when able to process and execute the following request "hey you, turn yourself off and get the f...out of my way".

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Why?

This whole thing seems like such a bizarrely flawed idea.

Computers are computers. People are people. Conversation is a communication method for people, it's not a communication method for computers. Does anyone actually *want* to have a 'chat' with a computer? Does anyone actually *want* to 'build a rapport' with one? Am I way off base here and everyone else really is just waiting for the day when they have to keep up a witty and amusing back-and-forth with their house AI every day just to get at the goddamn news? I dunno, I feel like I must be missing something here.

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Big Brother

Product with no manufacturer call back

When a voice controlled box which has good offline speech recognition and has nothing to do with adverts or talking back to a company in the background, I will buy one. Even if it costs more than the privacy invading advert brainwashing versions that all these companies want use to have.

I did setup such a box on a Pi but the offline recognition was nowhere near as good as using the ad companies online alternatives.

The other thing companies should note is we want to be able to call the box, or it's activation word, one of our own choice. Switching OK to Google or Alexa to Jeeves for example. Within the boundaries of what is easily recognisable at least.

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