Joan the computer chatter scoops prize for Artificial Intelligence


I’ve always been fascinated by artificial intelligence and particularly programs that you can attempt to have a conversation with. Probably the most famous one is ELIZA, the computer therapist. I remember way back when I got hold of a program that ran on my home computer that purported to be able to talk to me – it was fun to start with and was even supposed to learn from previous conversations, writing the data to floppy disk and using it in future exchanges. Trouble is, it still ended up asking exactly the same questions and it was very easy to lure it into an endless repetitive loop.

Things have definitely moved on, and now a virtual conversationalist called Joan has won a bronze medal and $2000 at the Loebner prize for Artificial Intelligence (or,more correctly, her maker Rollo Carpenter has). Joan has been alive for several years and has been evolving, learning from past conversations and becoming more and more human.

What this means is that the top $100,000 prize for the competition remains unclaimed – that goes to any machine that judges deem indistinguishable from a human being. However, Joan was considered to be very realistic and so was awarded the smaller prize.

She’s been entering the competition since 2003, and has grown stronger each year. You can help her develop, too, by visiting her at the Jabberwacky site and having a conversation. It’s not always the speediest experience, but it’s worth a go.

Andy Merrett
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