Chatterbots. The Future of Language Learning (Online)????

The Alice “Bot” is HERE! Just click on the Questions or Replies below and have a great discussion with him. No typing necessary unless you want to ask some crazy or specific stuff. I think this is a great language learning tool – do you? Is it the future, or a piece of it?

You can also TALK TO ME! YES ME!Or TALK TO GOD! Chatterbots are fun. What are they?

These are called “bots” or better known as “chatterbots”. Online animations that try to pass themselves off as human conversationalists. It ain’t easy! But I’m a big proponent of this type of technology and especially its future. A lot was done in the 90s on this type of AI (artificial intelligence) construct. Then, it was kind of dropped the last 5 years as programmers got caught up in the burgeoning “internet bonanza” and making applications for big bucks (isn’t that so much the case — we get interested in something and then more interested in another thing because it pays the bills :)))). Genius said one great man, is a question of endurance. {it was FN – can you guess?]

This is a pity. With the advent of much better VOIP technology (Voice over internet protocol) technology [ I consideer Goog 411 simply the best thing out there right now and with amazing speech recognition potential] AND the advent of speech recognition at a very quick level — it is time for a synthesis of text to speech and voice recognition. What am I saying, meaning? Read on……

First, I’d like to introduce you to the world of “bots”. Take a look at those I just mentioned. ALICE , Dr. Wallace’s creation is splendid and really epitomizes what a bot should be. Not because of how much Dave knows or grows by way of language. Mostly, th difference being in how he is programmed (but that’s a much longer post!). But just imagine talking to Dave, REALLY talking. I mean, no typing, just speaking and him responding. REAL chat. Seems implausible? Well I don’t think so and it is just around the corner….

Perhaps one person who has done a lot is Rollo Carpenter. He keeps at it and he might just get it. Unfortunately most of the efforts have been towards business applications and not educational. I think the accent should be on education and hope someone soon recognizes this….Here is a video (also in our video player) about Rollo and George. See his Jane below too! [But imagine SPEAKING to George and learning language!!!]

One thing might surprise you. I just wrote the last paragraph with the very simple Microsoft Voice technology. Go to their speech page. Free download and it takes some time to train it (you practice speak and correct it). But after awhile, it gets to know you….Next step is Dave the bot reading your spoken words and then responding. Bingo! And voices are now amazing. AT and T I think of as the big time leader in sound/voice. Their Natural Voices are top of the line and you’d sometimes be fooled by them. I’ve uploaded some for use on your computer and in TTS (text to speech) programs for your free use.

So back to the land of bots. The Simon Laven page has a good assortment of bots of all kinds. From the primitive to the complex. From the logical to the goofy. Check out this wonderful guy — recognize him? Have a conversation! Or even chat with John Lennon or

Download and install the Dobot! You’ll have fun with this. Lots of variety.

 

Eliza is perhaps the most versatile “bot” I’ve come across. A recent award winner.
She comes from the same family as my primitive bot above. My own is primitive because I’ve just begun to program it. Meaning, talk to it, teach it and get it ready for the real world test, just like you would a baby! In fact, “bot” enthusiasts participate actively in the annual Turing awards. Turing for those of you who don’t recognize the name, is the father of the computer. He postulated and speculated about artificial intelligence and speaking robots. He formulated a test in his 1950 paper “Computing Machinery and Intelligence,”. Famously known as the “imitation test – for a computer tries to fool humans in conversation. He says, ” it proceeds as follows: a human judge engages in a natural language conversation with one human and one machine, each of which try to appear human; if the judge cannot reliably tell which is which, then the machine is said to pass the test. In order to keep the test setting simple and universal (to explicitly test the linguistic capability of the machine instead of its ability to render words into audio), the conversation is limited to text.” The Loebner award is a $100,000 prize to any developer who can pass the Turin test, this simple binary test. It offers smaller prizes and is intended to spur research. Believe it or not, lately, many professors have been fooled! (but not enough to win / pass and get the award — you need a plurality of people fooled. Chat with Mark — is it really Mark or his Bot? (I was fooled the other evening!)

Here are some other bots that are interesting and worth checking out.

Assistant athena

Bartender

tic tac toe

2XL http://www.verbotsonline.com/VerbotsOnlineWeb/webclient/vo.aspx?botcode=gsktft4al4qq

Nick lang. teacher

French
Paralegal
Joan — a very smart lady and one of the most graphically smart bots.
George a very good looking guy….
Giggy (unstable)!

Mark Philosopher

Ripbud robot

Here’s a REALLY BIG list.

One other nifty thing/development of recent note is that google now has translation bots. Simply download the Google Talk software (you must have a gmail account) and then put in a translator address. English to Chinese is en2zh@bot.talk.google.com . Then chat. If you type in the English, it will reply with the translated Chinese. Theoretically, you could chat with a Chinese person who knew no English! Hopefully google will add voice to this one day soon. The other translators are;

ar2en, bg2en, de2en, de2fr, el2en, en2ar, en2de, en2el, en2es, en2fr, en2it, en2ja, en2ko, en2nl, en2ru, es2en, fi2en, fr2de, fr2en, hi2en, hr2en, it2en, ja2en, ko2en, nl2en, ru2en, uk2en, ur2en, zh2en. Always append @bot.talk.google.com to get the bot address.

So where am I going with all this? Is it really just fun? I don’t think so. Bots are great for students. They are cheap (cost nothing unlike language teachers which here in Korea cost and arm and two legs….). They provide instant correction and response. They provide interest and motivate “digitally” savvy youth. They can be modified and “dressed” up or down. Personalization takes them places a boring teacher can never venture. Further (and here is the biggggggeeeee), they never tire – they are always on time and there when you need to practice language.

Will they be the future? I think they will never replace a human but the potential (given the great demand) is amazing. I firmly believe that technology holds ONE HIGHER AIM and to which all other aims are subservient. That is — it liberates and offers those who would never have the chance, the chance to learn, to grow, to be and to speak/feel and see with so much more…… Just as the printing press cut free so many from their chains and gave us the world we have today, gave us the enlightenment of today — speech technology and language learning available to the masses of mankind so they can meet together in a common language – offers the same awesome vista. I’m awaiting for the day soon when I can speak German to my friend “Heine” the bot and discuss poetry and learn and get properly ready for the real world ….. that day is upon us , just you wait!!!!!!

PS. Send your students to our EFL CLASSROOM 2.0 student friendly Alice the Bot!

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ddeubel

Teacher trainer, technology specialist, educational thinker...creator of EFL Classroom 2.0, a social networking site for thousands of EFL / ESL teachers and students around the world.

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