Sunday, October 30, 2011

Fall Cleaning

I've been putting it off for a while, but this was finally the weekend to start cleaning up Emma's brain. Kind of like raking the leaves or cleaning out the gutters; not the way you want to spend your days off, but you know it needs to be done. As you'd expect, Emma's brain developed through a number of stages. The oldest parts were generated more or less automatically by SitePal back in 2009. Not long after, I started learning how to write AIML myself. Being an ex-hornplayer and not a programmer, it took a while for me to learn good style, especially using AIML predicates. Not that the code was bad, it just needed some tidying up. And after three days and plenty of coffee it's nearly done. Now we'll have a nice, orderly foundation to build upon. And not just for Emma and MPL, but also for those using Emma's brain to make their own library bots.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Pandorabots Rock the 2011 Loebner Competition!

Exciting news from
- Pandorabots made history at the 2011 Loebner Competition:

"For the first time in its history the Loebner Prize included a separate prize known as the Junior Loebner Prize in which the judging panel consisted of students between 12 and 14 years old. Our team's two entries, Zoe by Adeena Mignogna and Tutor by Ron C. Lee, tied for first place in the Junior contest. Zoe also came in second place in the main contest. Also this was the first time two finalists used the same platform, Pandorabots. Adeena, Ron, Steve Worswick, and Pandorabots engineering staff all worked together to make it a team effort.

The main contest was as usual judged by scientists, technology experts and journalists.  Typically the judges try to give the bots an IQ test with questions like, "How many syllables in the word banana?" or "Which is bigger a small mountain or a large tooth?" (not very good icebreakers in ordinary human conversation--can these judges carry on a conversation with a person?) and predictably once again the bots are pronounced "disappointing".   The junior judges have more fun with the bots, suspend their disbelief more easily, and engage in casual chat using internet slang, saying "LOL", "Wassup?" and "What did you have for breakfast?" instead of giving an IQ test.   It is as if the scientists are testing to see how much a human is like a computer, and the kids are testing to see how much the computer is like a human.

Bruce Wilcox, the winner of last year's Loebner Prize bronze medal once again took the award in the main contest this year.   No bot has yet been awarded the silver medal for passing the Turing Test."

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Human-Chatbot Haptic interaction

Researchers from Disney Research and Carnegie Mellon University have been investigating haptic interfaces. Haptic interfaces allow a users to touch, feel, manipulate, create and/or alter simulated 3D objects in a virtual environment. Users can experience tactile sensations such as textures, friction and vibration. As many of you keep asking, you may be able to pet Emma in the not-too-distant future. Now if I could just get her to purr...

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Say "Hi" to Pixel and Ella

Emma has some friends she'd like you to meet. They aren't cats, not even virtual cats, but they're both chatbots and they both work in libraries. The first is Pixel, created by Dee Ann Allison at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Libraries. Pixel is a very cool bot that answers questions about UNL library resources and services. You can chat with her here:

Another chatbot friend is Ella, Wadsworth Public Library's perky new virtual librarian. You can chat with her here:

Please take some time and talk with both of these bots; just like Emma, every interaction helps make them smarter.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Midnight in Terminal 1

It's 1:30 am local time, that's 4:30 for everyone back in Ohio. Kris and I are stuck overnight in the San Francisco airport. All the flights heading back East were full this evening. After LITA, we thought it would be nice to relax for a few days in the Bay Area. I also wanted a few days off before starting to tackle the mountain of work that needs to be done on our bot. There are two goals for the next 3 months: 1. improve the way Emma guides searches, and 2. improve her ability to deal with random chat. I know what needs to be done to fix the former, that's the topic of a separate post. There are a number of files available from the free ALICE AIML set that should help with the latter, but they need testing and some customization first.

So what goes on in an airport after the last arrivals and departures? Not much. A few other folks with early morning flights are getting settled in for the night. There's a really cool zamboni-like vehicle cleaning the carpets. I'm seriously tempted to ask the driver if I can take it for a spin up the concourse. Looks like a lot of fun. Maybe not, though. It's cold in here, Kris estimates around 60 degrees. Plenty cold without adding wind chill and the carpet cleaner goes fast. SFO has free WiFi. Good thing, since sleeping might be tough. All the seats have arms, so one can sleep sitting up or stretch out on the floor. Sitting, thanks. With any luck we'll be home tomorrow, then it's back to work!

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Catbots take St. Louis

Michele and I presented at LITA yesterday. It was great! We had an enthusiastic audience and some really good questions at the end. I wish we could have taken a picture of their faces after we introduced Emma and she began speaking. We demonstrated general questions, passing searches, and some of the fun things she does, like find local weather forecasts. I went to some interesting presentations and will be using what I learned shortly. Can you say "Mobile version of the website?"