AI, virtual assistants and chat bots before, now and in the future

I’m taking the next step in the smart world here at Fluxx, and focusing in on AI, smart chat bots and stupid virtual assistants to hopefully find some interesting examples on what’s out there.

One of the hottest topics of the last few years has been AI in all its forms, everything from simple female-named chatting tools, to domesday predictions that AI will kill us all, or at least make us fat and obsolete in the workplace.

So far what we’ve seen and been able to play with has mostly been in the form of chat bots, helping us navigate over-complicated websites or get some very limited customer service help.

November 6, 2001 Treehouse of Horror XII” was aired, with Pierce Brosnan starring as Ultrahouse 3000. A smart building AI that becomes attracted to Marge and decides to get rid of Homer, attempting to kill him by dumping him into the dining room table’s garbage disposal — many of the common fears of what an AI eventually will do to us.

Bank bots to crazy bots

Some of you might remember that a few years back it felt like most service providers started using Automated online assistants like Anna from IKEA here, often used by banks or insurance companies to provide visitors with another form of customer service.

In these early days chat bots were usually quite useless but a bit fun to play with the first few times you interacted with them, especially as a kid discovering the limited anonymity of the Internet.

Microsoft experienced the same kind of problems after they launched their chat bot Tay earlier this year. Tay soon discovered that the Internet can be a dark and foul-mouthed place, and maybe too much for innocent sweet chat bots. Within one day it had a big Twitter meltdown and was offending almost everything and everyone.

Examples of Tay’s tweets on that day included, “Bush did 9/11” and “Hitler would have done a better job than the monkey [Barack Obama] we have got now. Donald Trump is the only hope we’ve got” as well as “F**k my robot p**sy daddy I’m such a naughty robot.” (Wikipedia).

Which was all very understandable to AI researcher Roman Yampolskiy, as Microsoft had not given the bot an understanding of inappropriate behaviour so it merely suffered the wrath of Internet trolls from around the world.

RoboCoke has all the right contacts

There’s was even a Hungarian party and music recommendation chat bot called RoboCoke created for Coca Cola, your perfect party friend: “RoboCoke is the virtual agent of the Hungarian Coke website. He can give you party and concert recommendations all over Hungary” (

It turned out to be a success; with more than 185,000 conversations and 5,130,000 messages in just a few weeks. I mean who wouldn’t want him to help for a night out?

If you head over to you can find some other gems to play with for a bit, such as the Drumpf Bot.

Kip will help you shop but X will not date you

Two relatively new entries on the chat bot market are Kip and X.

Kip is a chat bot that helps you save time by doing all the shopping for you and your team. Just tell the bot what you’re looking for, and Kip will find and buy it for you” (Kip on Medium).

Kip the shop bot is currently available to connect to Slack (who themselves have their own slack-bot integrated in the chat for every team) and Telegram. There’s an interesting interview with Rachel Law one of the founders of Kip at AI Startup. She strongly believes in its future role at the workplace leading a new form revolution a la Henry Ford with the assembly line.

Amy or Andrew Ingram (as it’s called) on the other hand is your new personal assistant, and an expert in “magically scheduling meetings”.

You can sign up for a free beta access at Earlier this year, the company raised $23m in a round of series B funding used to take from a closed and free beta to a commercial product (Techcrunch).

I’ve not yet had the chance to test it out, and I’m not sure how desperate my calendar is to date for some AI-help, but if you are interested to find out more Lara O’Reilly from Business Insider, spent a week with ‘Amy’.

A slightly weird but interesting thing happened to Amy is that she got asked out, not just once but a lot. “To be brutally honest, I did not anticipate that. I anticipated many things. That was not one of them,” founder Dennis Mortensen (Mic).

I’m not sure how much of this was genuine affection for its excellent ability in booking you a coffee meeting or maybe its “human-like voice” which Mortensen hopes will let users make “an emotional connection” with it. But romance and real affection between human and AI was themed in two excellent films Spike Jonze’s Her and Alex Garland’s Ex Machina.

Should we be scared?

3 of our current times’ most famous inventors, physicists and white men warn that the biggest threat and most likely cause of human extinction is artificial intelligence.

Elon Musk:We need to be super careful with AI. Potentially more dangerous than nukes.

Bill Gates: I am in the camp that is concerned about super intelligence. A few decades after [AI development] the intelligence [will be] strong enough to be a concern. I agree with Elon Musk and some others on this and don’t understand why some people are not concerned.

Stephen Hawking:The development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race.

Mr Musk hasn’t stopped with just warning us. Together with his Paypal co-founder, Peter Thiel, and backing from Indian tech giant Infosys and Amazon Web Services, he has set up OpenAI, a nonprofit company that will back research into novel uses of AI and share the findings (The Telegraph).

But similar to Zuckerberg’s philanthropic generosity with his Chan Zuckerberg foundation there have been many questions about exactly how much of this is for altruistic reasons or more a smart business investment. He has previously invested in two major AI firms; Vicarious (an artificial intelligence company based out of San Francisco, California, using theorised computational principles of the brain to build software that can think and learn like a human, where Mark Zuckerberg is also an investor) and DeepMind Technologies, which was acquired by Google (Forbes). A longer read on this is available from Wired written by Cade Metz.

“Google DeepMind created a neural network that learns how to play video games in a fashion similar to that of humans, as well as a neural network that may be able to access an external memory like a conventional Turing machine, resulting in a computer that mimics the short-term memory of the human brain” (Wikipedia). Its program AlphaGo recently made the headlines when it managed to beat the Go champion Fan Hui. This was the first time an AI defeated a professional Go player — something many predicted was impossible.

Incidentally, the London-based company, hit the headlines earlier this year, when it struck a partnership with the NHS, where they received access to the healthcare data of nearly 1.6 million patients (Wired).

Friendly AI

Another researcher and expert in the area is Eliezer Yudkowsky a research Fellow and co-founder at the Machine Intelligence Research Institute, a private research nonprofit based in Berkeley, California, famous for popularising the idea of friendly AI:

Yudkowsky asserts that friendliness (a desire not to harm humans) should be designed in from the start, but that the designers should recognize both that their own designs may be flawed, and that the robot will learn and evolve over time. Thus the challenge is one of mechanism design — to design a mechanism for evolving AI under a system of checks and balances, and to give the systems utility functions that will remain friendly in the face of such changes

There’s a great interview with him in Scientific American.

If you enjoyed this piece, please like below, and share it. You might also enjoy: 14 Cities trying to be smart or Why do police in this Canadian town hand out tickets for good driving?.

Hit me up on Twitter if you want to talk smart, bots or anything in between @de_englund