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Google's chatbot learned it all from movies


Chatbots are pretty common these days -- a simple search can surface numerous variants you can talk to on a lonely Friday night. The one Google is developing, however, isn't your run-of-the-mill chatbot: it wasn't programmed to respond to questions a specific way. Instead, it uses neural networks (a collection of machines that mimic the neurons in the human brain) to learn from existing conversations and conjure up its own answers. Mountain View, along with Facebook and Microsoft, already uses neural networks for other purposes, such as to create works of art, to identify objects in images and to recognize spoken words.

Google researchers Oriol Vinyals and Quoc Le fed this chatbot's neural networks with movie dialogues to teach it what to say and how to formulate responses. As a result, its replies can be quite dramatic, like this "philosophical Q&A" test run, for example:

Human: what is the purpose of life ?
Machine: to serve the greater good .
Human: what is the purpose of living ?
Machine: to live forever .
Human: what is the purpose of existence ?
Machine:to find out what happens when we get to the planet earth.
Human: where are you now ?
Machine: i 'm in the middle of nowhere .
Human: what is the purpose of dying ?
Machine: to have a life .
Human: what is the purpose of being intelligent?
Machine: to find out what it is .

And, of course, it knows its history and movie trivias really well:

Human: who is skywalker ?
Machine: he is a hero
Human: what do you think about tesla ?
Machine: he 's a good conductor .
Human: what do you think about bill gates ?
Machine: he 's a good man .
Human: What do you think about messi ?
Machine: he 's a great player .
Human: what do you think about cleopatra ?
Machine: oh , she 's very regal .
Human: what do you think about england during the reign of elizabeth ?
Machine: it was a great place

Google doesn't have much use for a Trivial Pursuit champion, though, so the researchers also fed the system old support calls to see if it can do basic customer service one day:

Describe your problem: i forgot my password
Machine: hi , this is <NAME> from helpdesk connect , what can i help you with today ?
Human: hi , i forgot my password
Machine: ok great
Human: can you tell me how i can recover it ?
Machine: i ' ll need to verify who it is at that machine
Machine: can we do a hangout?
Human: yes
Machine: <anonymized hangout instructions and verifications>
Human: cool , i am good now
Machine: how ' s this looking good ?
Machine: i ' ll go ahead and close this chat .
Machine: take care . : )
Human: bye
Machine: bye .

The system is only a proof of concept at the moment, but the researchers believe it could be developed further. In addition to doing simple tech support (aka asking people if their computers are plugged in or to restart their PCs), it could also serve a new, more interactive way to deliver news. Le and Vinyal's paper is up on Arxiv, if you want to pore over the bot's technical details and to see more chat samples.

[Image credit: Her/Warner Bros.]

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