In some ways, this new Barbie is like Eliza: She “speaks” via a prewritten branching script, and she “listens” via a program of pattern-matching and natural-language processing.
But where Eliza’s script was written by a single dour German computer scientist, Barbie’s script has been concocted by a whole team of people from Mattel and Pull String, a computer conversation company founded by alums of Pixar.
Then, a little grandly, I pronounce my father’s name: “John James Vlahos.”“Esquire,” a second voice on the recording chimes in, and this one word—delivered as a winking parody of lawyerly pomposity—immediately puts me more at ease. We are sitting across from each other in my parents’ bedroom, him in a rose-colored armchair and me in a desk chair.
At one point the company’s CEO, Oren Jacob, a former chief technology officer at Pixar, tells me that Pull String’s ambitions are not limited to entertainment.Designed to mimic a psychotherapist, the bot is surprisingly mesmerizing.What I don’t know, sitting there glued to the screen, is that Weizenbaum himself took a dim view of his creation.But I am still interested in computers that can talk.
In 2015 I write a long article for about Hello Barbie, a chatty, artificially intelligent update of the world’s most famous doll.
Soon anybody will be able to access the same tool that Pull String has used to create its talking characters. For weeks, amid my dad’s barrage of doctor’s appointments, medical tests, and treatments, I keep the notion to myself.