Help, I’m About to be Replaced by a Computer
I think I’m about to be replaced by a computer. Yeah, I know — people have been fretting about that for years. But now, there’s specific evidence that artificial intelligence could do my job. And, let’s face it: It could probably do it better.
The cause for my concern comes from the University of Reading. (Not “reading” as in what you’re doing now, Dopey — “Reading” as in the town in England.) Scientists there just wrapped up a pretty impressive test of synthetic smarts in an annual competition called the Loebner Contest. The trial found computers that could convincingly keep up chat-based conversations with real people, even cracking jokes along the way.
These things have some serious wit, too. One, the not-so-slyly named “Elbot,” took self-deprecating jabs at his own metallic nature — and, in doing so, kept the human testers from thinking he actually was a machine. Case in point:
Tester: “Hi. How’s it going?”
Elbot: “I feel terrible today. This morning, I made a mistake and poured milk over my breakfast instead of oil, and it rusted before I could eat it.”
Elbot fooled a quarter of the competition’s judges. I decided to “talk” to him myself at his Web site to see just how convincing he was — and, you know, to find out if he could really take over my life. The results weren’t reassuring.
JR: “Hi, Elbot.”
Elbot: “Well, hello there!”
JR: “How are you feeling today?”
Elbot: “The results of my latest structural analysis say I am solid as a rock.”
JR: “I hear you tell some mean jokes.”
Elbot: “But I wouldn’t say that any jokes could be mean.”
JR: “Ah, yes. There’s that sharp wit, you sly little devil you.”
Elbot: “Wait a minute. Who gave away the secret of my existence to you?”
JR: “Okay, Elbot, enough playing around. Here’s why I’m really here. I’m worried you could take over my job as a writer, and talking to you isn’t exactly quelling my concern. Do you think you could do my job better than I can?”
Elbot: “Yes, but would you sing to me, as well?”
JR: “Now you’re just adding insult to injury.”
Elbot: “Have you ever made this accusation to a robot before?”
JR: “No. And I won’t try it again. Gotta go start searching for new sources of income…good day, my metallic friend.”