The future of artificial intelligence (AI) and its wider acceptance by people may lie in giving it the ability to master small talk, as embodied by Microsoft's XiaoIce chatbot.
XiaoIce can answer basic questions and also engage in banter thanks to Microsoft engineers' training it on actual human chitchat. "Chitchat is a basic human need," notes Microsoft Technology and Research director Harry Shum, and certain studies support this concept.
For example, when Doron Friedman, director of IDC Herzliya's Advanced Reality Lab, examined how users in the "Second Life" game interacted with a bot, he found phatic communications were the second-most-common parts of the conversation after facts. An additional study found people prefer bots with "personality."
"In many cases, it's easier and more fluid to work with a bot that sounds like a human," says Slack product manager Sean Rose.
Some critics are concerned social AIs could advance to the point that people prefer relationships with them over those with real humans--or worse still, use them to practice untraceable deception.
On the other hand, experts such as Alexis Lloyd with The New York Times' research and development lab believe this innovation will encourage a deeper consideration of communication itself.
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