I’ve recently been reading the work of interactive fiction writer Emily Short and discovered her story Galatea. I was happy to find that the story was powered by a chatbot engine and I wondered if this was a whole genre within interactive fiction. To my initial surprise, I discovered that there seem to be very few stories that rely on the use of chatbot technology. But once I thought about it, I decided that given the volatility of a lot of chatbot responses, it isn’t surprising that they haven’t been more widely used in interactive storytelling.
Before Siri, chatbots weren’t widely known. And Apple don’t call Siri a chatbot, so the term might still be unfamiliar. But Siri does what chatbots do. She understands questions and remarks put to her on a pre-defined range of topics and can respond with appropriate information. When she’s asked something outside what she’s been programmed to know about, she can give an intelligent response though it’s also generally going to be one that doesn’t answer the question.
Siri is a tightly controlled chatbot. Apple don’t want her to give unpredictable responses. But there are other chatbots that can speak to a much wider range of subjects. They do this by learning from what people say to them. While this improves their subject knowledge, it can also make them quite random in what they say and how they respond. An example of this type of bot is Cleverbot.
While I’ve been in Sydney, I’ve done a lot of work for a company that makes chatbots. And the types I’ve worked on are mostly the tightly controlled ones. It is possible to make these bots have a very large knowledge area but it requires copious amounts of time and effort. And then plenty of ongoing maintenance.
The company I’ve been working for has a proprietary platform and I’m not familiar with all the options available for people looking to create their own chatbots. I can understand that the looser types of bots would destroy anything that a creator might be trying to do within an interactive fiction.
So I’m unsure what the programming is behind Emily Short’s Galatea. But it’s sophisticated and given that she wrote this interactive fiction back in 2000, I think she was far ahead of her time.
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Via Chuck Sherwood, Senior Associate, TeleDimensions, Inc