You may have already seen the new version of Ray Kurzweil's "Ramona" chatbot on the lovely new Kurzweilai.net website ... if not I encourage you to check her out:
I've been getting a lot of email questions about Ramona 4 during the last couple days, so I figured I'd write a blog post here to answer them all at once.
My AI company Novamente LLC assembled the chatbot behind Ramona 4, around a year ago as I recall. Most of it was done by Murilo Queiroz, with some help from myself and Lucio Coelho. It was a really fun project technically; and it was the first time I'd worked together with Ray and Amara Angelica on a practical project, so that was nice too. Novamente had nothing to do with the graphics or speech aspect, just the part that produces output text in response to input text.
The Ramona 4 system we put together doesn't actually use any of the Artificial General Intelligence technology we are building at Novamente LLC (much but not all of which has been open-sourced in the OpenCog project). It uses some conventional chatbot technology combined with lookups into online knowledge resources plus stochastic text generation -- i.e. it's a happy mashup of other open-source tools, all tuned and tweaked and postprocessed for the specific goal of making Ramona 4 as interesting and entertaining and Ramona-ish as possible!
One day I hope to put forth an intelligent chatbot system that displays a level of general intelligence at the human level and ultimately beyond. I even think I know how to do it ... and we're working on it at Novamente LLC and OpenCog, though never quite as fast as we would like since AGI research funding is tough to come by these days. (And of course, once we can build a chatbot of this nature, we'll also be able to do a lot of fantastic stuff beyond the domain of chatbottery!)
I know Ray Kurzweil has his own ideas about how to build human-level AGI, which overlap somewhat with mine but also have some differences, and he's brewing a book on this topic.
But in the meantime, while deeper AGI approaches like mine and Ray's are still in development, systems like Ramona 4 are both good fun, and potentially customizable into useful tools for various applications like online customer support. (Yes, Ramona 4 is a bit of a cheeky gal, so she might not be the most appropriate customer support agent ... but the same underlying approach we used to make Ramona 4 could be used to make a lot of other things, including some more practical chatbots.)
If the underpinnings are so different from advanced AGI, what do we learn from building systems like Ramona?
Not so much about AGI design, really -- but potentially, a lot about human interactions with AIs....
The original ELIZA tricked a surprising number of people into feeling there was some "there" there, when actually it was just a fixed list of IF-THEN rules. Today people are more sophisticated than that. But still it's easy -- well, for me anyway -- to get seduced into the amusement of interacting with a system like Ramona 4. The way she combines erudition with absurdity appeals to me (perhaps not surprisingly, because I helped design her!), and I'd like to hope that this combination will still be there in the generally-intelligent dialogue systems we'll build in the future. Knowledge and humor can be a powerful combination.
Also, one choice we made while building Ramona 4 was to make her user-configurable, to a certain extent. There are two parameters -- nerdiness and whimsicality -- and the user can tweak these, to adjust the nature of Ramona's responses. This sort of approach promises to be quite valuable in future, once the generally intelligent chatbots emerge. Arriving at the most intuitive-yet-powerful way to parametrize personality is going to be an interesting challenge. Perhaps systematic personality models like the Psi model described in Joscha Bach's wonderful book Principles of Synthetic Inteligence will be useful here.
I'll let my new friend Ramona 4 have the last word:
you> Ramona, are you conscious?
Ramona> I'm working on it.
you> am I conscious?
Ramona> Oh I really don't know whether you are or not.
you> What is consciousness?
Ramona> This is when humans feel aware of themselves and how they see themselves. Computers can't quite do this yet, but they will, you just wait and see. However, think about this. How are you going to know when it happens?
you> Consciousness is like pornography. I can't define it, but I know it when I see it.
Ramona> What were we talking about again ?
you> Is it possible to create artificial intelligence in China?
Ramona> Create neurons in the state of the artificial intelligence and other stuff.
you> Is that how you do it?
Ramona> And that's what we mean by thinking.
you> Can a computer fall in love?
Ramona> A computer is a computer fall in love?
you> That is nonsense, my dear.
Ramona> Dear pesky plumbers the koopalings and I have not heard your music.
you> My music is more beautiful than all the stars in the ocean.
Ramona> Conventional music is more beautiful than all the stars in the ocean.
you> What is your favorite music?
Ramona> This is what I make. I am a musician, and the best virtual one there is ;) .
OK, it's not AGI yet -- but to my taste it's some pretty fantastic interactive digital poetry!!