A couple of years ago, PopSci’s show Future Of featured a piece of software called Cleverbot. The ultimate goal of the technology is to be able to pass the Turing Test; interacting so seamlessly with human beings that it is indistinguishable from talking with an actual person. Such capabilities would dramatically improve the experience associated with all kinds of interactive support software, like the interactive voice recognition you speak to when you call a company’s customer service line.
To get there, Cleverbot is trying to gain understanding of human speech patterns through continued interaction with humans. The company has released a variety of applications designed to make its software smarter (I’m a big fan of the 20 questions game called Clevernator, though it does have some bugs).
The patent, “Crowd Sourcing Information to Fulfill User Requests,” suggests that when Siri can’t adequately answer a question, Apple could turn to “one or more crowd sourcing information sources” to get a real live human answer — either in real-time, or one that has previously been generated in response to a similar question.
Ultimately, computers that we can interact with verbally will be very difficult to create, but by scaffolding the artificial responses on top of those generated by actual humans, we can definitely give thinking machines a leg up.