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When the bot is you

Mike Elgan | May 17, 2016
The bot revolution is about to get weird. Get ready for your own personal 'me bot'.

Lifenaut is agnostic about the application of this "Mindfile." They suggest that "perhaps in the next 20 or 30 years technology will be developed to upload these files, together with futuristic software into a body of some sort -- perhaps cellular, perhaps holographic, perhaps robotic."

It's easy to dismiss all this as tinfoil-hat nonsense. But the woman behind it, Martine Rothblatt, is the founder of Sirius Radio and the highest paid female and transgender CEO in the U.S. (at the biotech firm United Therapeutics).

Hanson Robotics even built a prototype robot for Terasem Movement of Rothblatt's wife, whose name is Bina. (Martine Rothblatt is president of the Terasem Movement Foundation and Bina is vice president.)

Here's a video of Bina talking to the Bina48 robot. If anything, the video reveals that our robot clones are not ready for prime time.

Long before our robot clones are ready, we're going to be using "me bots."

Why you'll join the Chat Bot Club

Some media outlets are reporting on Chang's Chat Bot Club as a gimmick for sociopaths. But I believe you'll use something like it, and so will I. Bots that interact as us and on our behalf are coming, and we will love them.

How do I know that? Because we're already trying to automate our conversations. What "me bots" represent is simply the automation of communication in the age of bots and A.I.

Organizations big and small, as well as some individuals, have used email auto-reply and mail-merge to blindly send messages to people as if they were individually crafted.

With auto-reply (as when you're on vacation), you don't know who you're sending to or what email you're auto-responding to, but the recipients usually know it's an automated message when they get it. With mail merge, we know who we're sending to, but the recipients often don't know the message is automated. Either way, we're automating communication in a desirable and socially acceptable way.

I've also mentioned in this space an A.I. chatbot called Amy,'s email-based virtual assistant. Amy interacts via email and arranges meetings. The interaction is so good and natural that many or most of the people interacting with Amy don't know she's a bot. And they don't care. Amy's existence as a bot matters only when she gets flowers or asked out on dates because of her winning personality and professional competence.

Google recently rolled out a feature called Smart Reply for its Inbox email service. Smart Reply uses recurrent neural networks to produce three possible replies to most email messages. You can ignore them, or use one by simply clicking on the button. The fact that Smart Reply is a popular feature shows how appealing the idea of automated communication based on artificial intelligence is.


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