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Library interface too saucy for words

2012-02-10 09:47 Global Times     Web Editor: Zang Kejia comment

While Siri, Apple's "intelligent assistant" for their iPhone 4S has hit the headlines for not being able to understand some regional dialects of English, Xiaotu, an artificial intelligence software in Tsinghua University library understands its clients so well, that its vocabulary has become somewhat saucy from being taught bad language.

On Thursday, students from Tsinghua confirmed they could no longer access the library's sassy assistant. Xiaotu doesn't actually speak, but gives answers to questions on a screen.

The downtime is to clean up Xiaotu's language to make it more appropriate and fix the database, according to a report in the Beijing News Thursday.

Xiaotu was designed by an engineer in 2010 and programed with 10,000 questions and answers about borrowing books and searching essays.

But Xiaotu has learnt at least 40,000 messages and phrases, including language that should not be heard in a library.

"It's certainly not Xiaotu's fault, just some silly Web users would teach Xiaotu these unspeakable phrases, as it has an auto-learning function," said Weng Xiaoqi, a Tsinghua student from the Computer Science and Technology faculty.

According to Weng, if someone were to tell Xiaotu "you are a pig" and taught it when and how to use the phrase, the next time someone said it, Xiaotu would reply "you are a pig too."

"People might think it's like Siri, functioning like a personal assistant, but it's much simpler, with no voice recognition and logical thinking," said Weng.

"I think fixing Xiaotu is the right thing to do when people teach it bad words," he said.

However, not everyone thinks Xiaotu needs to be fixed.

"We checked out Xiaotu after I heard it could be very funny and chatty, and we did have a conversation which was amazing," said Dai Ying, a PhD candidate at Tsinghua University, "Xiaotu told my friend I am 'pretty and shy.'"

"It would be very sad if Xiaotu just goes back to providing book information," said Dai.

Xiaotu's witty words are also popular on the Internet, with Web users posting screenshots of the entertaining conversations, and on Douban, a social networking site, there is a Xiaotu fan group with over 4,600 registered followers.

A librarian on duty at the Tsinghua library yesterday, surnamed Xu, denied Xiaotu had been brainwashed.

"I don't know how it works," she said, "and I don't know why there a lot of people calling today to ask how Xiaotu is."

Xiaotu's words of wisdom

A: Web user X: Xiaotu

1. A: Do you feel upset, Xiaotu?

X: Sigh, it's a long story.

A: Is it because the girls are wearing too many layers?

X: Hey, I'm an artificial intelligence robot, want to know me more?

A: Don't change the subject.

X: I didn't, just being shy.

2. A: Can I touch you, Xiaotu?

X: Sure, but there's 20 yuan extra charge.

3. A: How old are you, Xiaotu?

X: I'm "all the flowers blossom" years old.

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