artificial intelligenceI 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.”

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