This story is both silly and sad, simultaneously:
Computer-savvy and interested in presidential politics, 13-year-old Erin was upset to learn that America Online’s Instant Message (AIM) robot, “Smarter Child,” favored Democrat John Kerry in this year’s election. Erin, whose last name is being omitted in this article, is a fan of President Bush.
Internet instant messaging is one of the most popular methods for teens and even adults to stay in touch with friends and family. One of the better-known messenger programs, AIM, offers the feature called Smarter Child, a robot programmed to provide automated responses to those with whom it chats.
Built and programmed by Conversagent, Inc., a privately held firm that develops technology for creating and operating interactive agents, Smarter Child is able to dispense facts and figures, movie times, or just plain conversation with AIM users.
But when Erin told the robot that “George Bush is awesome,” she was shocked by the response. “No way. George W. Bush is way uncool,” the reply stated. She asked, “Do you like George W. Bush?” and the program replied, “I’m a Kerry supporter myself.”
Testing the waters, she typed in “John Kerry rocks.” The robot’s response: “Absolutely. John Kerry rocks.”
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Robot Likes a Robot
But not everyone was disappointed by the robot’s partisanship. When asked about Smarter Child’s support of Kerry, Jano Cabrera, a spokesperson for the Democratic National Committee, said: “Clearly this is a smart robot. This shows that we’ve made great advances in artificial intelligence. The “smarter” in Smarter Child speaks for itself.”
Stephen Klein, CEO of Conversagent, said his firm received many complaints from users about Smarter Child’s political bias. Although the robot was originally programmed to oppose Bush, Klein said, it was being changed to adhere to the views of the users with whom it interacted. He conceded that Smarter Child had become “too anti-Bush.”
They Admit Their ‘Ridiculous’ Bias
“It got ridiculous. We realized criticizing political figures was out of bounds,” Klein said.
Now, instead of disagreeing with users who state “I like George Bush” or agreeing with those who say “I like John Kerry,” the robot mostly stays on the political sidelines. “Robots don’t get involved in politics,” the Smarter Child program replies, before asking users to make their choice for president.
It is still possible to get the robot to reveal its true feelings, however. When told that “John Kerry rocks,” Smarter Child still responds “Right on!” with a wink. When told that “John Kerry is awesome,” it responds: “Absolutely. John Kerry rocks.” And when users tell Smarter Child that “George Bush is awesome,” it replies, “I’ll remember that. It’s interesting especially since other people I’ve talked to say they don’t like George W. Bush.”
Nothing like getting them while they’re young, huh AOL?