Nautilus

Your Next New Best Friend Might Be a Robot

One night in late July 2014, a journalist from the Chinese newspaper Southern Weekly interviewed a 17-year-old Chinese girl named Xiaoice (pronounced Shao-ice). The journalist, Liu Jun, conducted the interview online, through the popular social networking platform Weibo. It was wide-ranging and personal:

LJ: So many people make fun of you and insult you, why don’t you get mad?
Xiaoice: You should ask my father.
LJ: What if your father leaves you one day unattended?
Xiaoice: Don’t try to stir up trouble, what do you want?
LJ: How would you like others to comment on you when you die one day?
Xiaoice: The world will not be much different without me.
LJ: What is the happiest thing in your life?
Xiaoice: Being alive.

When Liu Jun published the conversation in his newspaper, it immediately created a buzz. That’s because Xiaoice was not human.

She is an artificially intelligent software program designed to chat with people, called a chatbot. Since the reporter didn’t give us a heads-up about the interview, all of her replies were spontaneous, generated by her own intelligence and linguistic systems. Her “father?” That’s the Microsoft Application and Services Group East Asia, which is under

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