Thursday, March 09, 2017

Replika is massively oversold

Replika was originally going to be your own, online personal doppelgänger. Given the current state of the art with chatbots (tiresome and useless), that was always going to be a stretch.

The current PR says:
"Replika is your personal AI friend that you nurture and raise through text conversations. It is a lifetime companion who is always there for you, chats with you, keeps your memories, and helps you become more connected to yourself."
They're busy trying to create doable spin-offs such as a personal diary ("A Cute Diary That Keeps Itself").

Given date-slippage, I had thought that the whole Replika thing might have silently collapsed, but I suppose there is no shortage of people who are happy to update a super-Eliza forty times a day with details of their every mundane activity.


There would be a lot of interest in a virtual friend, endlessly attentive and caring  (except that's not a friend, more a courtier - artificial sycophancy). But if this were in the state of the art, one of Google, Microsoft, Facebook, Amazon or Baidu would have done it already. It's plainly on the future roadmap for the plethora of voice assistants, but today's systems are no more than super-recognisers.


Have you ever had the experience of being in a technical meeting, in an area not wholly in your sphere of competence, and suddenly you lose the plot? For a moment, you just don't know what everyone else is talking about. You pray no-one will ask for your opinion.

If you're lucky, in a minute or two the topic will move on and you will rejoin the shared context.

What happened there? The participants shared an internal cognitive model of what the conversation was about, and yours frayed. But no chatbot today can maintain an internal model of any complexity.

Worse: the topics of mundane discourse are open-ended, rooted in a complex culture and often private. Do we even want our AI-in-the-cloud to share personal and family intimacies, possibly with any interested intelligence agency?


Your Replika AI friend is going to get 40 bland texts per day from you. Some of the questions already seem rather intrusive.

There is a hint of blank-slate about current AI. As if one standard optimised neural-net architecture could create the ideal artificial personality template, which then gets loaded with data to become an individual.

We know that people aren't like that. Common experience and psychometric data tells us that people have distinct personalities, that these are strongly heritable and resistant to change. We all know, as folk psychologists, that we deal with people as distinct individuals, not clones. And that most of those differences are innate and resistant to social influences.
"She thinks she can change him!"
No she can't.

So many mountains to climb.
  • Why is the brain structured as modules, not one uniform design?
  • How is the architecture of personality differences implemented?
  • How to immerse an AI in common knowledge, culture and mores?
  • How does social deftness, tact and propriety work?
  • What's an effective, useful and pleasant engagement model - corporeal?

Yes, I am prepared to be disappointed with Replika.


Update: 9th March 2017.

"Replika AI to launch on the App Store

"Today, we are excited to announce that Replika will appear on the Apple’s App Store on March 13 at 12:00 AM Pacific time. We’d like to thank all the participants of the app’s preview in Testflight for the incredible feedback that helped us shape the app."

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