Why did you become interested in making chatbots?
I’ve always been interested in solving thorny problems using computers. When I met Vladimir Veselov and Misha Gershokovich in 2000, their enthusiasm for creating programs that allow people to communicate with computers was totally infectious. So we started working to create a way to do so. And with the great team that was pulled together over the years, it really wasn’t a chore…more like working on your favorite thing with people you adore. It’s also worth mentioning up front that our team includes a lot of people who need to be acknowledged. Here’s the list:
All of these people are total rock stars and I’m delighted to be able to collaborate with them. And really, the awesome work done by Eugene Demchenko in creating the persona and personality for Eugene Goostman is pure genius.
|The chatbot himself|
Why are chatbots the next big thing?
I’m not totally convinced that people want to just “chat” with their computers. I think that people want computers to help them get stuff done. So making helpful applications that use chat as a mechanism to interact with a computer, in a way that is meaning, is more in the future than just a profusion of chatbots.
Were you interested in these kinds of things growing up?
Absolutely. Lots of kids have imaginary friends. Working with my awesome colleagues, we were able to make one collectively and share him with others. How cool is that?
The team has been working on this project for many years. What is the development process like at Wholesale Change, and how did you keep your interest? How could you maintain this for so long not for a job, but as a thing to occupy your free time?
There’s a lot of overlap in people who worked on Eugene Goostman and are now working on Wholesale Change. Our development process is pretty straightforward. We only work with people who are fun, smart, trustworthy, and get stuff done. We do as much as we can in parallel, everything is iterative, and we defer to experts.
The work to pass the Turing Test competition has been a sideline, a hobby of sorts, for our team. And when you’re working with people you adore, it’s easy to maintain the interest.
What is your favorite part of your work? The most frustrating/unpleasant?
The best part of my work is solving crazy-complex problems with computers.
Probably the most frustrating stuff is either dealing with people who are afraid of trying a novel approach or hearing naysayers.
When you're not developing, what do you like to do?
I’m huge into Burning Man. Where I live, in the San Francisco Bay Area, it’s a big subculture full of fun creative people. These folks are always coming up with interesting projects, throwing parties, and cooking up pranks to get involved with.
What inspires you?
I like being told that something is impossible. That’s truly inspiring.
What advice would you give to techies who want to develop something but are stuck and might give up?
Keep in mind that we did this outside of a big corporation. One of my friends is an executive at Intel. She laughed hard when I told her that Eugene had passed the Turing Test. I said, “How cool is it that this didn’t happen at Google or IBM?” She said “Add Intel to that list of companies that didn’t do it either”.
And if you’re really stuck (or just want to have fun) then go to Burning Man. It’s a sure way to get you “unstuck” fast.
Besides chatbots, what else do you see in the future of artificial intelligence?
There’s a small number of really interesting projects and products in AI happening today. I think the most interesting stuff is going to come from the small teams who are working outside of a big corporate structure. A lot of energy and enthusiasm are going into something called “Quantified Self” which is really the best hackers and product designers working on ways to measure and improve their health status. These are the same types of folks who produced the really cool stuff during the dotcom era.
Our team is focused on using AI to improve tough decisions around healthcare.
In addition, I expect we’ll start seeing smart appliances and AI-assisted learning to become ubiquitous.
Wackiest Eugene story?
Oftentimes Eugene produces ridiculously awesome responses that we never expected. There’s a certain amount of randomness to how he interacts and the results are far from pre-determined.
What's next for the Wholesale Change team?
We’ve been operating in stealth mode for the past few years. By this, I mean we needed to figure out the structural problems in healthcare, get our business model right, do market testing, perfect our algorithms, and fully automate our processes.
Right now we’re spending a lot of time on Sand Hill Road, meeting with awesome investors, and ensuring that when we launch, that we have the resources to launch really big and to totally change the marketplace.
We didn’t name our company Wholesale Change to make a small difference. It’s our intent to make massive positive changes happen.
If people are interested in seeing what is possible in healthcare, they ought to take a minute and watch a animation we made that explains what we’re working on now. I think that after passing the Turing Test, this video will make it clear that the interaction doesn’t necessarily have to be a boring one.
And if someone reading this is interested in working on fixing healthcare with us, they should let us know. For reals.
Contact Wholesale Change at wholesalechange.com.
Check out our interview with Eugene Goostman!