Lab #12 – Scripting the Chatterbot Eliza

Screenshot 2014-11-12 13.58.25Creating the Eliza Chatterbot was an exercise that was very different from anything I’ve done before. As I learned more of the code I began to be able to get to the point where it almost seemed like a real conversation (albeit very scripted and basic). Once I grasped the basic rules I began to experiment and add in a few more creative responses. When I finished the tutorial, I formatted an entire conversation that flowed, at least somewhat, putting together all the different things I learned in the tutorial. In addition to emailing Professor Cordell I have included a link to my code here: Joy Davis – Eliza full conversation

As I thought about the code in terms of creative or literary possibilities, I was reminded of the recent movie Her, where a man named Theodore falls in love with his artificially intelligent operating system, which is named Samantha. In the movie, Samantha is voiced by the actress Scarlett Johansson, and has as much depth of character as any of the humans in the movie, and eventually Theodore falls in love with “Samantha.” To me, this seems like the ultimate example of the creative and literary possibility of code. We can infer that it was a human who originally designed the artificially intelligent operating system, inputting code that allowed “Samantha” to be able to fully respond to anything Theodore says, and even interpret his grunts and moans that are not made up of words. If I’m remembering correctly, “Samantha” is also able to adapt and learn more as she/it spends more time interacting with Theodore—this certainly seems to be the fulfillment of a creative possibility. (IMDB – Her)

I’m rather ignorant of the current capabilities of artificial intelligence, but it seems that if such a thing is possible, it will also be capable of writing texts: poems, ballads, short stories, novels, non-fiction works. The question is, though, can anything produced by something man-made, rather than an actual human, actually operate in the same way as literature written by humans? Will these bots be able to be programmed sufficiently to mimic the depth of human emotion so well that they could create masterpieces that humans study? Or even be able to produce texts that are indistinguishable from texts that humans have poured their heart and soul into? As a bibliophile and possibly-aspiring author, the part of me that is curious and impressed with the great advances that have been achieved through technology already is not equal to the part of me that believes (or wants to believe) that there can never be a code that can truly replace human creativity and literary talent. There is something to be said about the impact of who produces a medium on how it gets interpreted and discussed. When we read the tweets produced by bots, if we notice and appreciate any creativity it is attributed to the code written by the designer of the bot. This is a rather unconventional form of creative writing, but certainly some of the bots that Professor Cordell and others have produced have created some witty and creative quips—an output that certainly fits the requirements of the term “creative writing,” even though our current generation may be in a place where the idea of programming as writing just somehow doesn’t sit right with us. This also raises the question of authorship. Does the programmer who wrote the code for Eliza the Chatterbot have the authorship rights to what she says? In this case, it seems like the answer could be a simple, “yes,” because the code for Eliza details exactly what she can and will say. But when the question is about the authorship of the text produced by a bot that goes and retrieves text from somewhere else… I just don’t know. The programmer him/herself didn’t come up with the text, but he or she did write the code to get the bot to mash up the other texts into a new text. This lab certainly made me think differently about text produced by electronic means (produced, not just transcribed). However, I think it will still take a deep change of mindset before I take a text produced by a bot and teach it to my high school English classes. I guess I’ll have to wait and see where technology takes us!

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