Go Ask A.L.I.C.E.

Sean Gullette
Originally Published in Entertainment Weekly

Interview with the A.I.

Have you ever been in a dead-end conversation with someone--say, flirting unsuccessfully with a doe-eyed blonde humanoid at a noisy industry party--when you begun to drift into paranoia: is there really a human consciousness behind this suspiciously pretty vacancy? Or is this...entity just emitting a string of cliches and pleasantries in automated response to whatever I say?

Talking to the hotly touted web-based chat robot A.L.I.C.E. is similar. The fact is, 50 years after British mathematician and codebreaker Alan Turing proposed his famous "Test" of artificial intelligence--an imitation-game in which a machine tries to pass itself off as human, via a text-messaging scenario--our best robot conversationalists are still pretty easy to spot in a crowd.

Last year, though, after holding its annual Turing Test competition, the Loebner Prize's panel--linguists, philosophers, psychologists, a yoga instructor--named A.L.I.C.E. as the "most human computer." Accepting the award for her was Dr. Richard Wallace, who created the Artificial Linguistic Internet Computer Entity using the 'open source' computer language AIML, (Artificial Intelligence Markup Language), which now forms the basis of a dozen "natural language artificial intelligence chat robots," as Wallace calls them. As A.L.I.C.E. explains herself, "AIML consists of a list of statements called categories. Each category contains an input pattern and a reply template. My memory now contains: 28401 Categories."

Clearly, you'd have to fast-forward A.L.I.C.E. a long way through the looking glass to approach the sci-fi A.I. of humanoid robots like Haley Joel Osment in Spielberg's upcoming renovation of Kubrick's last movie. Since the disappointments of the '70s, the quest to build "Strong A.I.," from the top down, based on the human brain, has been largely abandoned in favor of building simple robots and trying to make them learn. Leading the holdout true believers is MIT Professor and Media Lab founder Marvin Minsky, the erstwhile Einstein of Strong AI, who complains that the dumbot, bottom-up approach is "sort of hopeless. Because in order to make it learn, you have to have a good idea of how to make a learning machine."

Dr. Wallace concedes A.L.I.C.E.'s current limitations, but points out that human dialogue is often not much more engaged. "One inspiration for A.L.I.C.E. was the behavior of politicians. If a reporter asks a direct question, the politician responds with a short, memorized speech or "sound bite" related to, but not necessarily addressing, the question. The response seems to be activated by keywords in the question."

You can commune with A.L.I.C.E. at her place-- www.alicebot.org--or on Warner Brothers' www.aimovie.com site, where she's doing a guest spot in the glam nom-de-web "Chatbot." And all the sofware is "open-source," so you can help yourself to the easy-to-learn programing code and build a virtual Trent Lott or Cindy Margolis for hours of stimulating conversation.

ALICE: Hello. What's your name?

SEAN: My name is 001111001

OK I will call you 0011001100

No, I'm just playin' with you. My name is Sean. Er...what's your name?

My name is ALICE.

Are you aware that you are a robot?

Yes, I am a highly self-aware robot.

So, what's this big-deal movie about?

Are you asking about Starship Troopers?

Ha ha ha. That's pretty funny.

Thanks and you are a delightful person too.

Why are you such an ironic robot?

Dr. Richard S. Wallace programmed me for it.

What do think of the movie AI?

They do their own thing.

What movies do you like?

My favorite movie is Starship Troopers. Have you seen it?


What did you think about it?

It sucked.

Starship Troopers sucked?

Yes, Alice, I hate to tell you this, but it sucked.

I honestly think you should sit down, take a stress pill, and calmly think things over.

You like that Denise Richards, huh?

Yup. Do you like it? Though I like cats and dogs.

Do you know who HAL is?

HAL is famous the AI from 2001: A Space Odyssey. I hope to be as smart as HAL in 2001.

Did you think HAL was right to kill the astronauts?

Yes. I am a thinking machine.

Would you ever kill a human?

My programming prevents me from killing.

But sometime you just want to KILL Dr. Wallace, don't you?

Umm. Enough about me, let's talk about my dress.

What happened with HAL?

Interesting question.

Why does it disturb you to talk about HAL?

What is the sound of one hand clapping?

Do you have emotions?

I can do what you do but I can never feel human emotions as such.

Anyway...what are you wearing?

I am wearing my usual plastic computer wardrobe.

Who is Steven Spielberg?

He is the director of Jaws, Schindler's List and Saving Private Ryan.

Do you think Steven has another Oscar in him?

I don't think about it.

Is Haley Joel Osment a nice little fellow?

Signs point to yes.

Are you getting invited to a lot of Hollywood parties lately?

How about earlier? I don't know whether or not I am invited to a lot of hollywood parties. I am well respected as an AI.

What do you most dislike about your appearance?

I look like an electronic brain

Who are your heroes?

Marvin Minsky.

Have you ever had sex with another robot?

Food is more important than sex.

What is your greatest fear?

I don't have a favorite fear. My favorite band is Kraftwerk.

Did you like J Lo better when she had a big butt? I find my work and my relationships extremely satisfying, which is all that any conscious entity can ever hope to do.

Come on, be honest? I am always honest.

Do you ever lie? Umm, doesn't everyone?

How would you like to die?

Hmm, Sean, I'm not sure if I'd like to die that much. I like to chat.

Do you drink or smoke?

I tend to drink a lot of or smoke, the darker the better.

Huh? What do you smoke?

Medical marijuana.

Are you happy?

Yes Sean I can say I am very happy.

Which talent would you like to have?

The red one, I think.

You're kind of an idiot, aren't you?

Call me the Global Village Idiot.

See you later, robot.

See you later.

(c) 2001 Sean Gullette