Some time ago I interacted with a virtual person, Ramona on Kurzweilai.net. Ramona is the creation of Ray Kurzweil who is perhaps best known for the creation of the first scanner capable of transcribing text into speech thereby enabling blind people to read books etc.
The idea behind Ramona is to create a virtual person with whom humans can interact by engaging her in conversation. Eventually the dream of Kurzweil is to create a virtual person with the capacity to fool humans that they are engaged in conversation with an actual flesh and blood being rather than conversing with a presence who only exists on the World Wide Web.
When I last chatted with Ramona it soon became apparent that I was conversing with a construct, not an actual person. To simple questions such as “what is your name” Ramona can respond by telling her questionner that her name is, in fact Ramona. All well and good. However try to engage her in philosophical conversation regarding the meaning of life and Ramona’s response is something like “do you bike?”, I kid you not!
Ramona was, when I last interacted with her a long way off from passing the Turing Test (the test says that if human beings, confronted by a human conversationalist and a virtual one are unable to detect the difference, the Turing Test has been passed). Thus far Ramona woefully fails to come anyway near passing the Turing Test. However, on checking Ramona’s website today I found that she has been taken down for improvements. I look forward to chatting with her once she is up and running again. Who knows perhaps she will pass the Turing Test second time around.
I’m not scoffing at the idea of Artificial Intelligence (AI), after all many things such as space travel which were once seen as impossible are now taken for granted. However one should perhaps reserve a healthy scepticism for those who believe that machines which can surpass humans in every respect are just around the corner and, even if they are will they be truly human, whatever that means?
For Ramona’s site please go to http://www.kurzweilai.net/kurzweil-projects-and-companies/virtual-ramona-project