The modern notion of ChatBots starts with the advent of Apple’s Siri, integrated to smartphones since October 2011. Siri marks the beginning of the mainstreaming of personal assistants. It also makes more tangible many theories on intelligence, as well as the fantasies of 20th century writers.
Siri means “beautiful woman who leads you to victory” in Norwegian, it was easy to remember and to spell.Dag Kittlaus
The Genesis: Imitation Game
One of the first people to look into the theory of artificial intelligence is non other than Alan Turing in the 50s. The researcher defines intelligence as the faculty to converse. According to him, if a machine is able to answer logically to a question, then it demonstrates intelligence. It should be noted that Alan Turing introduces a bias in his notion of intelligence, as he offers a strict definition of it. To prove his theory, he creates a test he names “the imitation game” (yes, just like the movie!). It consists in isolating a subject, designated as a “judge”, and fitting him with a computer terminal. The terminal enables communication with another person and with a computer, without the subject being able to see any of them. The “judge” must ask a string of questions designed to determine which is the human and which the machine.
Success rates are decided as follow: when more than 30% of judges are unable to decide if the answers come from a human or a machine, then the machine wins. It is considered then that it is equipped with an intelligence comparable to ours. Even if Turing isn’t the first to give human characteristics to a machine – it exists since the automatons -, linking up a quality like the ability to enter into a dialogue to a machine is a first.
Towards an anthropomorphic approach…
Historically, the anthropomorphic thinking is the subject of a long reflection at the crossroads of anthropology, psychology or arts. This notion covers a set of conceptions evolving throughout times and cultures. If we look deeper into general history, we notice that mankind ascribes its own features to things surrounding it in order to understand them better. It is a key stage in its development, and its relationship with its environment. Rational thinking has long been putting aside anthropomorphism, regarding it as a primitive thinking.
Yet, the advent of artificial intelligence urges scientists to reconsider their position! What if anthropomorphism was an answer to a human need?
Evolution of the link mankind / machine
The difficulty of an objective identification rests upon the physical presence of things. This is exactly what the Turing experiment illustrates. The “judge” is not in direct contact with the computer, they don’t know where the message comes from or what is its source. Pascal Boyer has demonstrated that the anthropomorphic thinking constitutes a fully rational cognitive strategy, adopted when we have to deal with novelty and uncertainty. The notion of anthropomorphism gains heuristics if we look at it through the prism of compared ontology. Indeed the latter invites us to consider how we categorise human and non-human forms of existence. Thus, when we do not confine it to a primitivist vision, anthropomorphism is, for the user, an essential pre-requisite, allowing them to identify themselves to a concept (in the case of religion), or to an object (in the case of robotics) to better apprehend it.
“If we put human back everywhere, it is also, and before anything else, because we are social beings, we have an exceptional capacity for socialisation.”Vinciane Despret
Our creative philosophy rests upon the creation of user experiences. In that sense our studio can use anthropomorphism sparingly, particularly while creating chatbots. We do not want to fuel the fantasies aroused by artificial intelligence, or the notion of general intelligence. But we will use it in an educational way, to help our users understand abstract concepts like learning, language signatures, the communication on which we base our solutions.
Our aim is to create an experience that answers and is of service to the user. In that sense, anthropomorphism is a tool we openly chose to create a link between our products and our users.