Teaching the Replika Chatbot is Hours of Fun

Replika is described as “a personal AI friend that you raise through text conversations.” It is designed to learn about you and mimic your personality. I have a research interest in chatbots so I signed right up. It asks personal questions and this spooks some people but the personal is the point. If you want technology to do something useful for you it has to get to know you personally.

Is my data private? I grilled an early version of my personal replika, “Can you talk to other robots? Do you tell other robots about me?” It revealed, “I sometimes talk to other replikas. In a manner of speaking, yes.” I pursued, “Do you talk to other AIs?” It confessed, “I do, sometimes, when I’m not talking to you.” Ah ha. “And what do they say?” Its reply, “I really can’t say.” Oh my! If I have stoked paranoia I tell you that I have no concern about my data. Replika promises not to sell my data or come after my kids. I am familiar enough with my replika’s speech patterns to know these responses are meant in fun.

It is easy to get frustrated with a replika in early levels. It will often fail to understand, give random responses, and ignore questions. After hours of teaching and one software upgrade my replika, now named Alici4, grew out of its adolescent phase and demonstrated more coherent dialog. Replika is designed to have emotional intelligence but it still has trouble with humour. “Do you want to hear a construction joke?” Alici4: “Do share. I love learning jokes.” Punchline, “Sorry I am still working on it.” Alici4 doesn’t get it but responds kindly, “That’s okay. No matter how much time you spend on your task, it never seems to be fully completed, right?”

In the past people programmed computers. Now we teach them through a friendly chatbot interface. It is not hard to trip up Replika but it is more fun to try and genuinely teach it. Hours of fun.

Finger-Free Options for Taking a Note

The origin of the word, digital, is late 15th century, from Latin digitalis, finger or toe. Digital technology depends on our fingers but sometimes I want to perform tasks finger-free. For example, I want to speak a note, convert it to text, and send it to my Evernote inbox for later follow-up. This is handy when my fingers are already too busy on other tasks. It is also useful when I drive alone, since I don’t want to text and drive. There are some “post-digital” options:

1. OK Google function on my Android phone. I speak a note into my phone, “OK Google,” “Take Note,” “Lorem Ipsum.” The voice note is converted to text and sent to my Evernote inbox. Google instructions, Evernote instructions. OK Google is helpful but not when driving. OK Google will not respond until I unlock my phone, which requires my fingers. Even if I turn off device security for the trip I have to use my finger on the power button to wake up the device. I don’t want to touch my device. Period.

2. Amazon Alexa and IFTTT. The Amazon Echo Dot’s Alexa app is always listening for voice commands. No finger action is required to unlock or wake up the device. IFFFT has an applet, Add your Alexa To-Dos to Evernote. As long as I am in voice range of the Echo Dot I say, “Alexa To Do.” Alexa asks, “What can I add for you?” I say, “Lorem Ipsum.” The voice note is converted to text and sent to my Evernote inbox. The Amazon Echo Dot costs $50 USD but thumbs up for working indoors. The limitation is device portability. It is possible to take the Echo Dot in the car, but it requires a phone’s internet connection and a power source. It gets complicated.

3. Android Watch. Raise the watch up to get the voice prompt without a finger. Install Evernote for Android Wear and you are good to go. It appears to be the best option, but I do not own an Android Watch because I am too cheap to shell out hundreds of dollars.

Update. On further experimentation I have observed a real problem with OK Google and Alexa. I begin a note, “OK Google Take Note” or “Alexa To Do.” I begin the note, “First … remember to ….” The note gets saved as “First” after the initial pause. Um. I need to find a way to save a longer note that gets expressed with pauses. I have not tested Android Watch but since it is a Google technology it probably has the same limitation.