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People who talk to computers are idiots

If Web Watch were to mention the name Randy Pausch to you, chances are you wouldn’t know who we were talking about off the top of your head.

But if we were to mention that Randy was the Carnegie-Mellon professor who wrote the book The Last Lecture, then maybe that would help ring a bell for you.  If you haven’t taken the time to read the book or watch the phenomenal documentary on The Last Lecture, then Web Watch strongly encourages you to stop whatever you’re doing right now and do so.

We’ll wait.

Just let us know when you’ve gotten back and we’ll continue…

Learning to Program with Alice
Learning to Program with Alice

Alright, you’re back.

That’s good stuff, isn’t it?

Another thing that Randy is known for is being part of the ALICE program. ALICE is a programming language that is often taught to kids as an introduction to the Wonderful World of Computers, in part because it was designed to be easy to pick up and implement.  If you’ve never programmed a computer before, ALICE can make you look like a software whiz-kid.

Web Watch likes talking about what Randy has done with ALICE, but wouldn’t you know — there’s a completely DIFFERENT “A.L.I.C.E.” computer program that we’re really going to focus on today.  One that Randy didn’t have a hand in.

That’s okay – you didn’t waste your time with that Last Lecture stuff.  It will definitely come in handy in the future.

So what is A.L.I.C.E. (which we’ll abbreviate as ALICE for simplicity sake, from here on forward)?

ALICE is an online chat robot.  Its goal is to try to interact with people in such a way that the person typing at the computer can’t tell that they’re chatting with a computer program or a human.   It’s the first steps in what artificial intelligence is all about.

If you can’t tell that a computer program is a computer program when its talking to you, then ALICE is well on its way to becoming a real part of your every day life.

Want to take ALICE out for a spin?  You can do so on the ALICE website, here.

So, what was the first thing that you typed into the chat window?

According to the ALICE LOG FILES, it’s really no surprise:  “What is your name” is the most commonly typed “what-is” phrased question into the ALICE system.

Other popular questions that people like to ask computers include:

  • What is my name
  • What is your favorite color
  • What is the meaning of life
  • What is your favorite movie
  • What is sex
  • What is your last name
  • What is 2+2

What gets more interesting is that the most popular word typed into ALICE in total is “YES”.  Coming in second on the list, at about 1/2 the frequency, is “NO”.  That the 2nd item on the list was about half of the first item of the list is a numeric trend called Zipf’s Law.  You may not have any practical use for knowing this Law in your every day life, but we thought it was interesting.

For those of you keeping score, “F YOU” clocked in ahead of “THANK YOU”.    Not really a surprise here either, is it?

So seriously – if you had to ask an online entity any question in the world that would identify to you that the thing at the other end of your chat window was a person or a computer — what would be the ONE question that you’d ask?  Let us know in the comments below…