Apple’s Siri, the personal assistant software that uses elements of artificial intelligence, received multiple accolades from the media. But is it the only software that is able to maintain general conversations and understand commands based on speech recognition?
Back in the 1960s, Joseph Weizenbaum of MIT created ELIZA, one of the first computer programs (chatter bots) that could maintain a meaningful conversation with humans. ELIZA was created to help patients in need of psychotherapy. ELIZA software responded to patients by using pattern matching techniques – providing answers based on similar keywords. The name ELIZA was inspired by Eliza Doolittle, a flower girl in George Bernard Shaw’s play Pygmalion, who learns to speak as a member of the elite society. After some interaction with ELIZA it was possible to discern that ELIZA was a program, however some people believed that ELIZA was a real person.
A Turing test is usually used to evaluate how well a software program imitates humans. Created in the 1950s by Alan Turing, the test helps differentiate between humans and computer programs that imitate human intelligence. During the test, a human judge is assigned to chat with a human and a machine. If the human judge is able to guess who is who, the software program fails Turing Test. The test is implemented in an annual Loebner Prize competition that evaluates the most sophisticated chatter bots. One of the winners of Loebner Prize – A.L.I.C.E. is able to maintain a conversation, however in spite of receiving three Loebner Prizes, it still fails to pass Turing test. Another chatterbot Cleverbot won Machine Intelligence Competition in 2010 and passed Turing Test by only 42 percent.
A recent trend is to apply artificial intelligence for the development of personal assistant programs in mobile devices. Dragon Dictation software types down everything you say, and a Genius Button imbedded in hardware of some Android based phones is at your command at all times – finds locations, replies to your emails, calls your contacts and performs other routine tasks. Personal assistants can send emails, post to social media sites, take notes, translate, look up weather, update calendars, find directions and talk to their owners. While Apple’s Siri received a lot of attention in the media, there are similar programs available on Android Market, such as SpeakToIt and Jeannie. To help understand accents, a Singapore company SingTel created DeF!ND, software that understands Singlish – English spoken with a Singaporean accent.
While the use of Artificial Intelligence in mobile applications is on the rise, how this technology will develop? The usage of such applications in academia is also intriguing. For example, can students benefit from using “personal assistants”? Will it be possible to create technology that looks up references, helps in doing homework, or automatically creates and posts assignments by the deadline?