What should a robot read to understand humans?

What should a robot read to understand humans?

I speak to a robot every day…more than one,usually.

No, I don’t work at Westworld. 😉

This is how I define a robot at another blog of mine, The Measured Circle:

robot is something created by humans (directly or indirectly) that performs tasks (autonomously or not) done by humans (or, more broadly, by other animals…a robot dog, for example, would perform work done by living dogs, including providing companionship). 

The word may conjure up an image of a mechanical man, perhaps clunky and made of metal. The way we use the term at The Measured Circle, it would include software performing human tasks, and non-anthropomorphic devices like an answering machine or a calculator.

On the Robot Beat presents news about our creations that are, even in small ways, replacing us.

So, certainly, Alexa, whether on our

definitely qualifies. I talk to our Echo (family room) and Dot (bedroom) every day, and I bring our Tap to work, so five days a week on that. I rarely talk to our Fire TV or Fire TV Stick  (we have both), but that may change when we can ask Alexa to open apps or show us shows.

I also talk to “OK, Google” on my Samsung S7 Edge.

They are all getting better…but I have to adjust my conversational style to fit what they understand best.

There’s a giant…well, let’s call it a “charms race” rather than an “arms race” to get digital assistants to have more natural conversation.

Progress is rapid…but there is a long way to go.

IBM’s Watson read all of Project Gutenberg (which prove to be confusing later on about what was fiction and what wasn’t, as I recall from reading a book on the project).

In this recent

Huffington Post article by Maddie Crum

it’s reported that Google used romance novels to try to get a bot to figure out how to put sentences together.

Why romance?

They liked that it was “formulaic”, and thought it was between the complex sentences of literature and the simplistic construction of children’s books.

It’s an interesting choice.

They aren’t really trying to get their bot to understand humans…just to be able to construct more natural seeming conversation.

They want it to see what type of response follows what, that sort of thing.

What would I have a robot read if I wanted it to make good conversation?

I think I’d go with Stephen King.

I’ve found that King writes people in a way that seems familiar to me, realistic to me.

You might have to pick and choose a bit…not every Stephen King book would work, or character.

You could approach this several ways.

You could have your bot memorize millions of books, and search for actual matches.

That’s going to produce some bizarre results from  time to time. 🙂

Another way would be for it to figure out patterns…if the response to a question is “article, adjective, adjective, verb, noun”, that’s something a robot could learn. It would have to be able to either group words within that pattern by understanding their meanings to some extent, or just by grabbing groupings (a “gaze” might be “longing”, “intense”, or “steady”, for example).

My guess is that we’ll  see rapid progress in the next two years and achieve bots passing the Turing test (basically, being convincingly human in conversation) within the next five.

I don’t think that means they need to think like us or feel like us. I think a way to fake that will be found by someone, and probably more than someone.

I would venture to say that most humans don’t think through everything they say, or even anywhere close to most of what they say. “How are you?” “Fine.” Much of it is rote, and more about social interaction than actual meaning.

That’s what bots will need to do, while still answering your question or performing the task you requested.

I don’t know how that’s going to happen, but I think it will.

Once they can handle conversation, they’ll be much better able to write fiction. They are getting there…not great fiction, but passable.

I found myself repeating the same stories over and over again. I use some of the same phrases repeatedly in this blog…sometimes by actual copy and paste (the introduction to my look ahead to the next month’s books, for example, tweaked each month. The statement at the bottom of each post is another).

Most of what I write here is new and spontaneous, but a blog like this is different from training a topic or answering a question.

I know some people recognize that I am telling the same story to make a point…and they are okay with that. I’m not trying to fool people…if it’s a good explanation, it’s a good explanation.

However, I don’t say it exactly the same way, mostly. I deliberately change a word or two, or word order, so that it doesn’t become monotonous.

This post, honestly, is just me musing. 🙂 I suppose, if I were a bot, it would have been more focused…and stiffer, most likely. 😉

What do you think? What would books would have a robot read to learn how to sound human?

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*When you shop at AmazonSmile, half a percent of your purchase price on eligible items goes to a non-profit you choose. It will feel just like shopping at Amazon: you’ll be using your same account. The one thing for you that is different is that you pick a non-profit the first time you go (which you can change whenever you want)…and the good feeling you’ll get. :) Shop ’til you help! :)  This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog. To support this or other blogs/organizations, buy  Amazon Gift Cards from a link on the site, then use those to buy your items. There will be no cost to you, and a benefit to them.


2 Responses to “What should a robot read to understand humans?”

  1. loneybaloney Says:

    Bufo, I can’t figure out how to contact you without commenting so … this is not about this topic but another that I would like to see you address. I am an older person. I have a collection of several thousand Kindle and Audible books. I sometimes wonder what will happen to them when I pass on. Could you address this topic, please?

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, loneybaloney!

      Commenting it the best way to reach me about my writing…I will see them and respond to them most quickly that way, and it makes it simpler for me. I suggest using the About page on the blog, but any post is fine. I also tell people that if they want it kept confidential, they should say that at the beginning of the comment.

      Here’s something I wrote about Kindle books and inheritance…more than six years ago.


      Not much has changed…the main thing now is that you could share with a relative through a Family account without adding them to your account.

      The short answer to the easy way: if you want people to have access to your Kindle books after your death, given them access before your death. 🙂

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