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Let the games begin

December 6, 2008

Well here we go!

So this is the kickoff for the ejtalk blogging site. Iím looking forward to having a lot of fun here and finding a lot of like-minded souls. Itís very likely that if you got to this blog you have a deep and abiding fascination with talking to synthetic life forms. In my talks I usually refer to them as synthetic agents (SA).

In the fictional accounts of books and movies these synthetic agents appeared with a wide range of capabilities. Some are embodied such as Robbie the robot, CP30 and Rosie the robot maid on the Jetsons. Some are unfettered intellects such as HAL or the network spanning "Mike" imagined by Heinlein in "The Moon is a Harsh Mistress". Some of these imagined synthetics were a little more practical. For the most part the computer in the Star Trek series was devoid of much personality. It was generally conversationally efficient and cooperative, although not likely to be much fun at a party.

In the real world we have all experienced the nearly mindless form filling voice-based applications. Rarely do we say more than one or two utterances to accomplish some simple action. Even all the cool voice apps you read about in the press are no more than one or two utterances long, and they lead you to some atomic goal such as a phone number. We are beginning to see some more ambitious applications, for instance technical troubleshooting. Quite possibly if youíve called your cable company recently with a technical problem you have gone through a series of diagnostic questions from a synthetic agent with the goal of discovering simple problems or at the very least making a more focused statement of your actual problem.

Granted, these conversations are still rudimentary, but they do address some of the issues that come up in real conversation: pauses, filler words, conversational ellipsis, restatements, etc. One thing that all of these current applications have in common is that the creator has to micromanage all of the potential twists and turns.

The next phase of conversational synthetic agents requires a fundamental change in developmental methodology. What to do and how to do it is going to be interesting.

There is a lot to talk about!