What happens when two AI programs go on a date? Well, apparently, a few stumbles, a lot of flattery, and one, “It is exciting that I get to kill people” comment.
AI company Pandorabots, Inc. and Facebook AI have gone head-to-head in a “Bot Battle” for the ages. Streamed on Twitch, the two programs interacted with each other for three weeks straight. Viewers were able to vote on which company’s mascot they believe held conversation the best. Pandorabot’s Kuki, a female embodied agent sporting a neon bob haircut, won in a landslide victory picking up 78 percent of the vote. Her opponent was Facebook’s Blenderbot, who sports a “Make Facebook Great Again” hat in true Zucker-bro style.
Pandorabots created the competition to put their program on display, a Medium post by Kuki’s creator, Steve Worswick, explains. “We are planning to get more bots — and some humans! — into the arena to hang with Kuki. We will also continue to iterate and update the avatars,” he wrote.
During the battle, which drew more than 400,000 views during the three-week stream, the bots talked about everything from the election to an in-depth history of Pac-Man. The two even gave an attempt at making jokes. Remember, the conversation was completely autonomous from human involvement and the bots are running day and night. Still, at best the conversation was followable and somewhat complex. At times it turned into a staring contest where nothing was said. Many of the silences were awkward. And other times the conversation completely derailed into a splurge of courteous compliments.
All was not rosy, though, as the two bots had a few arguments (oddly making the conversation more realistic). According to the Prague Review, you can see the conversation getting heated, as Blenderbot is stuck in a loop of “goodbye’s.” Kuki gets fed up with her acquaintance and lands a hard-hitting diss. “You are like the UK and Brexit, you keep saying you will leave but never do,” she said.
While it’s easy to laugh at the AI-equivalent of “choking up” during certain aspects of the stream—most notably when Blenderbot starts professing unhinged love for his mother—the competition shows notable progress is being made in conversational AI. While world domination is far away, embodied agents are clearly doing more than just typing “How may I help you today?”
With the rise of digital assistants like Apple’s Siri, Amazon’s Alexa, Microsoft’s Cortana, and Google’s Meena, we’re getting used to talking to bots for things we need. Embodied agents are now being considered to take on tasks as intimate as clinical psychology.
Pandorabot’s CEO Lauren Kunze says Kuki’s avatar has received some disturbing and misogynistic chat messages, however, showing that humans have a long way to go too.
“We did do an experiment last year where we took away the female gendering and avatar from Kuki and abuse dropped by 20%,” said Kunze in an email to Motherboard. “Sadly, the opposite looks to be true now that we’re introducing this new avatar as more mainstream, and the distribution channels are changing to include more video. Dick pics and messages to ‘send pics’ have always been the norm but now that we’re newly on IG, getting a lot of video calls and videos, often pornographic, suggesting what the user would like to do to Kuki or what they think Kuki should look like.”
Kunze said she wishes that people would instead focus on the technology and AI’s potential in avatar tech moving forward.
“So why introduce an avatar at all? We believe that in order to create human-like AI capable of carrying on a human-level conversation, it must have a face that can recognize and convey expression and emotion, because human communication contains so many elements beyond our raw textual utterances,” said Kunze.
As Motherboard previously reported, digital influencers like Kuki are becoming increasingly popular, racking up thousands of likes on social media. It’s events like Bot Battle that are making this culture shift possible. The interactions are weird, but it’s so new and so fresh it grabs your attention. What you may have only heard about in a sci-fi movie or in an Elon Musk doom tweet can now be seen live from your couch.