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Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Alphie


This is an Alphie. This is the toy my daughter got for Christmas. It is an educational robot toy that uses cards to teach numbers, letters, matching, and all sorts of things, through the use of universal buttons that mean different things depending on what card you put in. I believe this is my daughter's favorite toy she got for Christmas. She even went to sleep with it that night.

This is my old Alphie, which I had when I was about my daughter's age (or slightly older). I loved the damn thing, but all he did was light up his face and beep and boop. My daughter's new Alphie contains the same boot-up noise that the old Alphie did, but he also talks and displays images in his ocular viewscreen (during the alphabet song, it will display each letter). But it was the closest I came to a robot toy with artificial intelligence.

But the way my daughter's new Alphie works, he says a lot of self-aware things, but it's all random dialogue. And like all speaking toys, it gets repetitive. It got me to thinking, why hasn't anyone made a robot toy that can actually communicate with you? AI has made a lot of advancements over the years. Games like Seaman, Animal Crossing, and The Sims have shown us that the technology is there, at least in terms of robot toys. And kids like taking care of anthropomorphic objects (tamagotchi, pokemon). How hard would it be to make a robot toy like the creepy teddy bear in A.I.?

Speech-to-input technology is still somewhat lacking, but there's obviously potential for other methods. There's the keyboard, but if you wanted to keep it simple, Alphie's context-sensitive buttons would work. You could put in cards for different things (conversational topics or feeding/sleeping) if needed. Certain AIs are starting to pass the Turing test. Why can't you put one of these in a toy? To prove this, I'll have a conversation with CleverBot, an online AI chat program.

Hello
Hello.
I'm talking to you to find out how good your AI is
Would you like to meet my cat?
No thanks. I'm curious how good your AI would be if we put something like you in a child's toy.
What will you give me in exchange for this?
What would you like?
What do you have to give me?
How about a joke?
Tell me a joke!
If I tell you a joke will you demonstrate some of your AI for me?
Yes.
Okay. What is soft, green, and roasted over a fire? A martian-mellow.
Roasted.
Yes, roasted. You know what roasted means?
No. What does it mean?
I can't believe you're a computer and you don't know what "roasted" means. Don't you have the power to look it up?
I'm not a computer. I'm a human.
I know for a fact you are not. It says right below that "visitors never talk to a human".
Indeed it does, indeed it does. However, I am the visitor, so that means that YOU are not the human being. I am sure I am a human being. I am flesh and blood.
I am a human but you are a computer.
Prove to me you are human.
How do you want me to prove that I am human?
You have to come up with that on your own. The burden of proof lies on you.
What do you want to do today?
Okay, I guess AI isn't as advanced as I thought.
Taking a guess like that is a poor choice.
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