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Thursday, July 08, 2010

Ruminations on Ramona 4

You may have already seen the new version of Ray Kurzweil's "Ramona" chatbot on the lovely new 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!!

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Can We Evolve a DNA Computer or Cultured Neural Net that Perceives the Future?

After some interesting conversations about psi with Damien Broderick, I couldn't resist spending a half-day writing up some old ideas I had about how to modify quantum physics to better explain psi phenomena like precognition, ESP and psychokinesis.

You can find my funky physics speculations at

-- (Parenthetical remark: If you want to argue with me about whether psi phenomena exist or not, please first read the excellent books by Damien Broderick (a serious-minded popular overview) and Ramakrishna Rao (a selection of research papers from the relevant scientific literature). My general attitude on the topic of psi agrees with that of researcher Dean Radin, expressed in the last few paragraphs of his online bio. I enjoy discussing the topic as time permits, but I don't enjoy discussing it with people who are both heavily biased AND ignorant of the current state of scientific knowledge.) --

After writing up those old physics speculations and then thinking on the matter a bit more, I started musing in an even more weird direction....

Suppose it's true that psi phenomena are related to peculiar quantum-like phenomena among interacting molecules in the brain....

Then, this suggests that it might also be possible to cause other conglomerations of organic molecules or cells, similar to the ones in the brain, to display psi-like phenomena....

One naturally wonders about technologies such as reconfigurable DNA computers ... or cultured neural networks (neural nets grown in the lab outside the brain) ....

There is abundant data demonstrating the ability of many people to predict the outcome of random number generators with statistically significant accuracy (see this article for a moderately out-of-date review and some pointers into the literature). Might it be possible to create a DNA computer or cultured neural network that could carry out, say, statistically significant precognition of number series produced by random number generators?

Since we don't know much about how the brain does precognition, we don't know how to wire such a DNA computer or cultured neural network, step by step.

However, nobody wired the brain step by step either -- the brain evolved to do the things it does (apparently including a weak capability for psi).

What if we used evolutionary computing -- a genetic algorithms approach -- to evolve biological computing systems (DNA computers or cultured neural nets), where the fitness function was the capability to predict the future of number series generated by random number generators?

In this way, we could potentially create psi-capable biological computing systems, even without understanding exactly how they work.

We would also get an ensemble of biological computing systems with differing levels of psi capability -- and by applying machine learning tools to study the internals of these evolved systems, we would likely to be able to limn some of the patterns characterizing the more psi-successful systems.

Obviously, if this worked, it would be a scientific revolution -- it would point the way beyond current physics, and it would allow us to carry out psi research without needing whole living organisms as subjects.

Yes, yes, yes, this is real mad scientist stuff ... but every now and then one of us "mad" scientists turns out to be right about some pretty surprising things.... The idea in this blog post is one of those that seems really wacky at first -- and then less and less so progressively, the more you read from the relevant scientific literature, and the more you think about it....

Well, this stuff is tantalizing as hell to muse about, but now I'd better get back to my more mundane, not-so-speculative activities like trying to build superhuman AGI and studying the genetics of longevity....