Phil Friedman

6 years ago · 3 min. reading time · ~100 ·

Phil blog
The Emperor May Be a Bot ... But He Still Has No Clothes

The Emperor May Be a Bot ... But He Still Has No Clothes






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Autodesk, a long-standing developer of 2D and 3D drafting and design software, recently announced it plans to release a new version of its Autodesk Virtual Agent (AVA) avatar.

The company says that AVA’s CGI makeover will turn her into a hyper-detailed, 3D-rendered character – what Soul Machines calls a "digital human". 

No doubt the Prophets (Profits?) of AI will herald AVA as a further step in the march to full-fledged Artificial Intelligence and the creation of robots (both physical and virtual) that display "human" characteristics.

Well, it's time to stop taking what they say at face value and instead look at what they're actually presenting as examples... 

When you do that, you find that the reality rarely if ever lives up to the claims being made. When it comes, for example, to AVA, my reaction is, "Is that the best you can do?" 

Admittedly, AVA is better than an animated cartoon character. But it (not she) is still light years away from even approaching the nuanced play of human facial expressions.

Sure, a real, live AVA would be a sultry beauty. But as it (not she) stands, it's a face only her design engineers could love.

Take a look for yourself and let me know what you think.  ―  Phil Friedman




Information and video credit:

Author's Notes:  This piece is the second in a series on Artificial Intelligence that I am writing from a layman's point of view, one that is not filtered through the eyes and judgment of someone with a vested interest in the hyping of AI. If you'd care to read the other articles in the series, they are:

1) “Artificial Un-Intelligence”
2) "The Emperor May Be a Bot... But He Still Has No Clothes"

3) "The Robots Are Coming, the Robots Are Coming..."

4) “The Prophets VS the Profits of Ai”

5) "The Anthropomorphization of Ai"

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About me, Phil Friedman: With some 30 years background in the marine industry, I've worn different hats — as a yacht designer, boat builder, marine operations and business manager, marine industry consultant, marine marketing and communications specialist, yachting magazine writer and editor, yacht surveyor, and marine industry educator. I'm also trained and experienced in interest-based negotiation and mediation.  In a previous life, I was formally trained as an academic philosopher and taught logic and philosophy at university.

Text Copyright 2017 by Phil Friedman  —  All Rights Reserved 





Science and Technology

Phil Friedman

6 years ago #24

Yes, Debesh, they will use our time to train the bots so they can increase their profits. Not the bots’ fault though. Cheers!

Debesh Choudhury

6 years ago #23

It is a good question question Phil Friedman .. They will take our free time to train the chatbots

Phil Friedman

6 years ago #22

I have to tell you all this story. Yesterday evening, I received a notice from one of my software subscription companies that I needed to update my expired credit card information to which the monthly charge is billed. So I went online to do that but found that although I could update the card info, the system would not let me correct the info for the failed billing attempt and continue to show a payment past due. So I went online to talk to Customer Service and was answered by what was clearly a chatbot. Normally, I would have hung up and tried to reach a living person, but the exchange seemed to be moving along fairly quickly so I stuck with it. After a series back and forths, during which the bot asked repeatedly for confirmation that it was interpreting my questions and statements correctly, the problem was resolved, and the bot and I parted ways. Good result? Yes. But out of curiosity I had timed the process from start to finish and guess what... because of the repetitions and requests for confirmations, it took 27 minutes. About three times longer than I estimate an exchange with a live person would have taken. Now some will point out that the bot was "learning" from our exchange and would become much faster in future. To which I'd say, no, I was involuntarily training the bot, who was taking up my time for free. Where is the intelligence in that?

Bill Stankiewicz

6 years ago #21

Cool buzz

Phil Friedman

6 years ago #20

SHOWMETHEINTELLIGENCE. Installment II of the series...

Phil Friedman

6 years ago #19

All - this is an interesting conversation here, and I thank you for your participation. I think you should be aware of the fact that this article and my previous article on "Artificial Un-Intelligence" were stimulated in part by an article by Geoff Hudson Searle: Geoff responded in a very interesting way to a comment I made on his piece: "All respect @Phil Friedman and great to hear from you. My interaction with my client's robot is that their robot has developed feelings as a result of time spent with children, teenagers, adults and old age pensioners, behaviors, attitudes, and humor. The AI feeds of the interactions which make the robot hospitable, understanding and compassionate. I believe we live in interesting times and life will become even more interesting in the very near future! Cheers, Phil!" To which my reply was, "Geoff, I have no doubt that humans can develop feelings and attachments to machines. What I take issue with is the idea that the reverse is true, notwithstanding some machines may be programmed to produce contextually correct responses that simulate "understanding and compassion". However, I am open to having the interactions you cite being demonstrated by way of videos. What I am not open is accepting, without direct demonstration, the claims of the Prophets (Profits?) of AI as to what their bots can do. To paraphrase a well-known movie title, "Show me the goods!" Cheers." Feel free to continue the conversation. Cheers!

Phil Friedman

6 years ago #18

Thank you, Pamela \ud83d\udc1d Williams, for reading and the kind words. I share your concern for our society if we continue to buy the BS being fomented by the Prophets and Profits of Artificial Intelligence. What we are seeing is a blatant propaganda campaign to convince us that not only can machine intelligence outperform human intelligence, but that machine intelligence will be "objective" and unaffected by the biases built into it, both intentionally and inadvertently, by programmers and engineers. The situation is a mirror of what has happened with the explosion of "apps" to choose what we read, what music we listen to, what schools and cars and clothes and foods are best for us. As though these "smart" apps are neutral and without flaws or built-in biases. It's all a pile of crap. Which becomes evident if you have had any experience with a Customer Service Bot -- which takes at least five times as long to resolve your problem if indeed it ever resolves the problem at all. An intelligent human works are five times the speed of such Bots because the human exercises judgment and understands the objective. The same is true of the programs that are supposed to allow a single customer service representative to talk to multiple customers at the same time. When you look closely you see the purported improvement in efficiency is a complete hoax. All these programs or bots do is slow down the rep-to-customer interaction by delaying the serial interchange. With the result that a five-minute conversation with a customer service representative (or bot) takes 20 to 30 minutes. But in the meantime, the profits for the software firms selling this bill of goods to other companies continue to pile up.

Phil Friedman

6 years ago #17

Lada \ud83c\udfe1 Prkic -- A bot can be clever, But an android is better. As a bot is almost never A real go-getter. Cheers!

Lada 🏡 Prkic

6 years ago #16

It's all clear to me now. You're a Cleverbot. That's why I like interacting with you. :)

Phil Friedman

6 years ago #15

I agree, Jerry Fletcher, Here are some questions I ask immediately upon being connected a customer "service" center or call desk. 1) Where are you? If the answer is in a country that is culturally widely divergent from min (the U.S.), I politely say goodbye and try another means, since my experience is that, in some cultures, the propagated "customer service" ethic is to protect the company and keep it from spending any money, all in preference to actually satisfying the customer. 2) Are you a real person or a computer? If a computer, again I hang up. Because the vast majority of my experience is that I am about to enter upon a 20 or 30-minute conversation that will end in my being told to call another number and speak to a representative. The pipe dream of Bots to solve customer problems remains just that, a pipe dream. And if you want to achieve peace in your life, that is one pipe you will not smoke. Cheers and thanks for joining the conversation.

Phil Friedman

6 years ago #14

Wayne Yoshida, the link you supplied is a great read. I recommend it to all who are interested in this topic.Thanks.

Phil Friedman

6 years ago #13

Very good questions, Robert Cormack. As I said below I much prefer the MS Paperclip. No complaints there concerning harassment -- unless being used occasionally to pick my teeth counts. Cheers!

Phil Friedman

6 years ago #12

Okay, Lada \ud83c\udfe1 Prkic, here is where the rubber meets the road (to use an engineering-related metaphor). What would you say if I disclosed that I am a Social Media Bot that's been in a beta testing and self-learning phase for ten years? :-)

Lada 🏡 Prkic

6 years ago #11

Phil, I just like the idea of experiencing the interaction with an automaton. AutoCAD becomes more and more complicated, and its user-help database is not better or worse compared to other complex software. We can always have YouTube for additional instructions. :)

Phil Friedman

6 years ago #10

I prefer the MS Paper Clip, Wayne Yoshida, Autodesk can put as much as it wants into the development of AVA, but that won't help a whit if they do not improve the quality of their user-help database and the explanations and instructions contained therein. Not to mention, if the user-help were more complete and useful, I wouldn't need AVA or anyone else. I can read pretty well. Don't you think? If so, AVA is a lot of investment for a parlor trick.

Jerry Fletcher

6 years ago #9

Phil, I, too, am one of those humans that likes fast response speeds because I'm on my server rather than a cloud trying to reign over me. If you do video editing, ( as I do regularly) you could go crazy waiting for action over a DSL line! As to the visual aspect of a Chat bot...ARgggh! Chat alone is a pain where a pill will not reach. Granted one customer service rep can handle up to 3 enquiries at a time using chat which saves labor costs but the level of service is off by anywhere from 50 to 90% in my estimation. Customer service with real humans will, I believe, become the mark of better products and services with pricing that supports them. ( A couple of my clients have already proved this forecast!)

Lada 🏡 Prkic

6 years ago #8

AutoCAD is my main drawing "tool", but I very rarely ask explanations from the Autodesk's help service. I read the article about AVA and like the idea. I even think to give it a try and see how it would be to meet face-to-face with an automaton. As its designer said, AVA is not pretending to be anything other than a robot. Phil, thanks for another stimulating post.

Lada 🏡 Prkic

6 years ago #7

AutoCAD is my main drawing "tool", but I very rarely ask explanations from the Autodesk's help service. I read the article about AVA and like the idea. I even think to give it a try and see how it would be to meet face-to-face with an automaton. As its designer said, AVA is not pretending to be anything other than a robot. Phil, thanks for another stimulating post.

Phil Friedman

6 years ago #6

Right on, Paul \.. Direct cloud-resident program work ell in specific circumstances and certain jobs. But you can’t truly run most businesses on non-local softeare in my experience. Autodesk is looking to use AVA as a virtual user-support person in order to avoid msintsining huge call centers or vast contractor networks. The concept is brilliant. Replace unhelpful outsourced call centers with an unhelpful but infinitely polite and patient Bots. Cheers!

Phil Friedman

6 years ago #5

Right on, Paul \. Direct cloud-resident program work ell in specific circumstances and certain jobs. But you can’t truly rin most businesses on non-local softeare in my experience. Autodesk is looking to use AVA as a virtual user-support person in order to avoid msintsining huge call centers or vast contractor netseorks. The concept is brilliant. Replace unhelpful outsourced call centers with an iunhelpgul but infinitely polite and patient Bot. Cheers!

Wayne Yoshida

6 years ago #4

Arg! A trip into the Uncanny Valley*. But this has gone way beyond the irritating MicroSoft Paper Clip, eh? *

Robert Cormack

6 years ago #3

It's interesting, @Phil Friedman, that when we create an avatar (or Siri, for that matter), of course they have to be beautiful and sultry and even a bit distant. Sounds like these are the same traits our latest batch of gropers were looking for when they took advantage of innocent women only interested improving their careers. How long before robots of similar gorgeous appearance rise up, accusing wealthy men of grabbing an inner thigh or pinching a butt cheek? So far, I haven't seen any truly ugly avatars (although blue isn't my colour). Why can't we have ugly bots who won't drive us crazy with their sultry looks and husky voices?

Phil Friedman

6 years ago #2

Claire, you are correct. The general shift from the supply of discrete software that resides locally in your computer to the "supply of service" via a real-time internet connection is put sh$t. I loved Adobe Acrobat 9 which resided on my computer for a decade. Adobe Acrobat DC is anti-intuitive, confusing, cumbersome, and craps out every time you lose the WiFi or internet connection. I use AutoCAD 7 happily for years. I hate AutoCAD Mobile. And Word 365 is not anywhere as quick as Word use to be when it resided entirely on my machine.

Claire L Cardwell

6 years ago #1

Phil Friedman - great article - I use CAD everyday - don't let me get started on the newer versions of AutoCAD. Their fly down menus and tabs at the top of the screen are really, really irritating. Rather than just grabbing one of your commands from the full menus at the sides, you have to look for it. We all use about 20 commands on a regular basis, but now I've got to click 2 or 3 times to get what I want...I am not into delayed gratification when I am trying to get some work done! The subscription service is crap - I know of plenty of people who have cracked the latest versions. AutoDesk has to have the WORST customer service and the most expensive software, which is fairly limited. As great as AutoCAD is, it is simply a virtual drawing board. The 3d plug in or their flagship Revit are clunky and not user friendly at all. Now a robot? Please - it is a superb example of computer engineering and design, but AutoDesk could intitially have saved money in the long run, tons of money in fact if it hired AutoCAD savvy people - Architecture or Engineering students for example to work in Customer Service and the Technical Advice Departments from home on a free-lance basis.

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