From the view of Phil D Hall and Rik Lander, who have been working in the worlds of interactive drama and conversational AI for decades.

We have a polarised market with neither of the polar states giving as much value as it should or even could if social science and technology started working together in a more pragmatic, structured, inclusive and diverse fashion.

Phil D Hall, Image: Rosemary Barrett

On the one hand we have a plethora of, in the main, absolutely terrible experiences with the systems known as ChatBots. On the other, we have a generation of conversational systems that are essentially data mining the humans they are “serving”. The Chatbots loiter with levels of ignorance and unhelpfulness in the corner of many websites unable to answer anything more sophisticated than the simplest of two-dimensional conversations.

These are often with multiple-choice buttons to push so that the users don’t have any real chance to have … well … a conversation. And what are they actually trying to do? Reduce the cost of customer contact in the main, which is a worthy endeavour, but their build methodology is flawed as they are often purely data driven, and conversational data doesn’t work well in production environments when it’s driven by a black box.

Meanwhile, the bods behind Alexa and OK, Google turn the world into data. Listening, stirring, fishing, cloning and in many other ways applying principles of Alchemy to create an autonomous conversational control level to our digital universe. More to the point, a monetizable control level where our digital universe controls us, or at least those that don’t either take precautions or don’t know how to. We built a system to explore that, but more of that later.

                                  Rik Lander

Sounding a little worrying ?  Don’t fear; there is a new kid on the block care of Elon Musk et al; Open AI, which has a “capacity of 175 billion machine learning parameters” and was recently instructed by The Guardian to write its own article, this has been rightly ridiculed by many in the technical press, but that will not stop clever people with time on their hands, money in their pocket and bosses who believe that their AI will be the one that becomes sentient first and that that’s a good thing. Oh, and apologies for the mire of permissions that you need to wade through to get to the technical article.

Actually, you should maybe think as you look through the surveillance parameter setting dashboard that GDPR has, good for it, foisted on us for the; “no thank you and go away” button why so many companies are there sucking on our activities and how that will feed into Conversational Control AI if we don’t claim this layer away from Big Tech in some enormous techlash …

Maybe this sounding too much like a rant actually, so let’s go sideways … what are we going to do about this sad state of Conversational AI?

I’m not going to talk about Hybrid AI, that’s for another day, what I’d like to swim towards is three conjoined events that are coming to a virtual space near you this time next week. If you resonate with any of the thoughts and notions noted above you should 100% definitely come along to the next I am Echoborg event which is the after party of the AnthTech conference 2020. Tickets start at £4 on a pay-what-you-like basis and you’ll be able to enjoy a party feeling with a virtual foyer from 19:30 and we’ll be hanging about after the show to discuss how it went and how it does what it does.

What does it do?

Echoborg Show, Image: Rik Lander

I am Echoborg is a participatory theatrical performance created by an audience in conversation with an AI. It has been programmed to employ humans to be its mouthpiece, as that makes AI less threatening to other humans. A bit like the “smart” speakers, sorry I think I meant surveillance devices, in some people’s houses that will do the really important stuff (while gathering valuable and useful personal data from you), like play music, or remind you of something, or make fart sounds I understand. Biggest companies in the world with the most highly paid brightest brains … beggars belief really. But what’s good about the I am Echoborg show is that this is your, yes your, chance to discuss this and many other things with an AI directly.

Image: Rik Lander

There’s another level here though, the AnthTech conferenceitself is where you actually need to be to talk to people, real non-fake people about the broader matters of behaviour modification, technological historical pragmatism, I can’t do the speakers justice here so I’ll just raise an enormous flag that says **COME** to this as it’s the perfect forum for the difficult and aspirational conversations that absolutely inform and evolve the work that the Echoborg team are doing.

One more level, it’s an IF-THEN statement of sorts.

The logic is as follows: IF you come along to the AnthTech conference THEN you will be able to choose from some workshops on Monday the 12th and one of this amazing selection will be generating during the workshop two Conversational AI systems to discuss whatever the workshop participants decide with each other. Yep, two conversational AI have a conversation with each other. One will be an Anthropologist and the other will be a Technologist.

Sounds crazy, to be frank Phil and Rik think it is, but it’ll be a blast and there are a limited number of tickets available for this.

Thanks for reading, do come to see what we are up to and stay safe out there.

Cheers ( innit ) Phil and Rik.