There is an unnerving number of dead people in my contacts file. One of them is Douglas Adams, who I knew to get quotes from; attached to the phone number at his software company is a note of what he said when plugging some game on 23rd January 1998:
Working on it with a writer named Neil Richards
onand w Michael Bywater. We have about 6 movie scripts’ worth of dialogue now: say 16 hours’ worth of speech. But we could go on till there were 32. There is an iterative process: we write a rudimentary script based on what people might put in, and miss 99 out of 100 reactions. So we record them playing it and start again. This iterative process starts to work. There are still times when you thing, oh God, STUPID machine, why didn’t you think of that? But there are other moments when it seems spooky. The machine puts together stuff that we had forgotten about, from far distant parts of the game. Of course, we don’t have real intelligence cracked – it’s a bit like Zeno’s paradox: we get closer and closer to the actual business of language, without ever reaching it. Like sawing someone in half: considered as a medical problem, it is very very difficult indeed. But if you just want to convince a large audience that you have sawn a lady in half in a cabinet – that’s easy.
I say that we really want to be fooled, and that is the secret of persuading people that we have found artificial intelligence. Even very stupid bots can appear intelligent if they are acting in accord with our preconceptions.
Yes: you just try to get a fucking actor to understand anything, he says.
Yoz Grahame, who worked on the game, says in comments that it ws Neil Richards and the Starship Titanic is still going. Amended accordingly. These were contemp notes, typed as we talked.