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Computers Learn to Abuse


Areala

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Most people who have spent any significant portion of time around computers are aware of the style of program known as a "chatbot". This is a simple piece of software programmed with some degree of artificial intelligence that can "interpret" what a user is typing, and then attempt to carry on a conversation with that person. Really good ones can often fool the general public, and every so often, someone will write one and unleash it on some unsuspecting chatroom and then sit back and watch the hilarity that ensues as people get very drawn into conversations with their new-found friend. Often, people won't accept the fact that they had been speaking to a simple computer program, even when presented with direct evidence, and will demand to know who the person behind the keyboard really is.

Of all the chatbots ever programmed, perhaps the most famous one was ELIZA, a sort of computerized shrink who would interact with a user by replying in various ways to questions and statements asked of it with vague responses, requests for clarification, and turning questions asked back on the user asking them. ELIZA also had the propensity to scold people who swore at it, making for some rather amusing reactions. Unlike a shrink, however, ELIZA really couldn't be "shocked". Confessing something to ELIZA never elicited so much as an electronic eyebrow raising: slept with sheep, murdered your family, enjoyed robbing the elderly at gunpoint? ELIZA just wanted to hear more about it, but she'd never scold you, no matter how badly you berated her.

Enter Randy Simon, who decided that computers everywhere should be able to defend themselves from the vile insults hurled at them by their human users. Mr. Simon's response to users to insulted their machines was to give the machines a way to fight back, and thus was born Abuse. Abuse was a simple chatbot, much like ELIZA, except that it was meant to trade insults instead of draw out your inner psyche. Hurl abuse at Abuse, and it threw back any number of assorted taunts, insults, and jibes. My personal favorite? "Go moon a flock of geese!"

For sure, Abuse was pretty limited in its application. You had to load it into memory every time you wanted it to insult you, so it wasn't like you could just install it on someone else's computer then sit back and watch the fun. But still, a computer that could fight back against a torrent of expletives on its own was pretty darn funny back in 1981. Come to think of it, it's pretty funny even in 2009. And if you don't think so...then your mainframe wears army boots.

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I have to say that from time to time, I've considered whether the person that I'm talking to in a chat room really is who he or she say's that they are. Is the cute sounding girl I'm chatting to for instance really a 60 year old, 300 pound guy in a vest? Well, like I say I have occasionally thought about this. But I've never thought that I might have been encountering a chat bot before. That is, until I read your blog.

It's kind of freaky but also kind of cool to think that they may be out there somewhere, waiting for they're next unsuspecting victim. If I ever do come across one in a chat room I hope it's ELIZA though, she sound's pretty cool. Plus the free therapy couldn't hurt.

Great blog as always Areala. :)

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Guest bedodson

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I remember I made a simple program in php that would grab from a pool of phrases I made and would combine them with whoevers name is recorded. It was inspired by another program in perl that would swear at you, but in the most odd phrases such similar to, "vile putrid mucus moldy membrane banana eating sperm monkey of mucky fluidic decent". Kind of funny actually.

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  • Retromags Curator

Bedodson, that line of yours is totally going into the next story I write assuming I can find a suitable context for using it. Good heavens...that would make even a hardcore biker pause for a minute. :)

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ELIZA was an early lesson for me in how not sophisticated AI was at the time. I was intrigued by the premise, but the results were pretty predictable after a short time.

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