Chatbot kissing and sex

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A few days ago I posted a column ("Breaking Up Is Hard To Do") relating the difficulty I encountered when I tried to cancel my e Fax account.

After a couple of false starts, I ended up engaged in a live chat with "Steve S.," a sort of Ricky Roma character—if one can imagine Ricky Roma working off a company script—who did everything he could to avoid fulfilling my simple request. wasn't Ricky Roma so much as Ricky Robot—that my live chat was not with an actual human, but with one of the burgeoning number of robots being deployed to perform customer service, the simplest and most familiar being the soothing female voice who retrieves phone numbers when you dial 411 ("City and state, please"). EFax makes a virtue of the primitive nature of chatbot technology by using a chatbot to field "cancel my service" requests online.

I would imagine that sex is an especially fruitful realm for chatterbots because it is where we humans are most eager to have our passions affirmed through uncritical repetition.

("Let's [verb]." "Let's [verb]." "Oh God." "Oh God." And so on.) Four decades after the advent of Eliza, that's still what chatbots do best.

One of these people would not be a person at all but a computer.

Eliza's technique for responding to questions—a kind of parody of the passive, ever-deflecting style of psychotherapy that was all the rage at that time—consists almost entirely of repeating back whatever the user says, with the 's.Despite what today seems like Eliza's fairly obvious artificiality, she apparently fooled secretaries and other nontechnical staffers in Weizenbaum's lab, who proceeded in earnest to tell Eliza their darkest secrets and deepest problems.Weizenbaum (who died last year) was horrified and concluded that AI represented a cruel and dangerous threat to humanity.Finally I dialed the company's main number and pressed a button that got me randomly connected to a guy in sales named Steve.(Apparently, everybody at e Fax is named Steve.) Steve agreed to ask a colleague whether the company used chatbots to field cancellations and put me on hold.

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