MyCyberTwinThe world of chatbots still thrives today because of its user-creators. Whether made by kids who dream of making their computer talk even in print statements or adults who enjoy playing with programming toys, the chatbot is a means of evoking a conversation with your computer. Consequently, there may always be a market (albeit predominantly non-commercial market) for programmers who develop systems that allow easy bot creation. In the past, the dominant template systems have been ALICE, a perennial favorite, and SourceForge, featured in the 2006 Wired Nextfest. The system of the nanosecond is MyCyberTwin since it has tapped in to some of the social software craze.

Already the site claims 21400 CyberTwins online, including my own (Coach). The site also includes 6 Celebrity Cybertwins: George, Angelina, Paris, Bart, Perfect Boyfriend, and Perfect Girlfriend. Almost 600 Cybertwins are “Commercial,” althought I’m not sure how commercial the “Tommy the Silent” chatbot is, representing presumably the South Dakota folk singer. The system is gaining users, although, it has a long way to go to catch up to the reported 60,000+ ALICE users.

MyCyberTwin was built by John Zakos (The Code: programmer) and Liesl Capper (The Operating System: venture capitalist) of RelevanceNow! ! According to Zakos’ bio, his previous work brought him into the world of “contextual advertising technology.” Perhaps not coincidentally, of course, chatbots have had a bit of Second Life in advertisements (see subservient chicken) and, well, Second Life. Capper holds a BA in psychology and a “graduate certificate in venture development,” which suggests she could help ELIZA with her IPO. The team hopes to capitalize on the botmasters in all of us.

MyCyberTwin asks you to put your money where its mouth is, as it limits the number (500) of free exchanges each month. Here we see signs that the 2.0 technology is already set for that Web 3.0 turn towards cashing in on the Beta apps.

My Cybertwin versus ALICE

The differences between MyCyberTwin and ALICE is not so much in their relative success (or failure) on the Turing Test (leave no bot behind) but rather in the way users create them. ALICE programmers customize thousands of replies (or leave them exactly the same). MyCyberTwin pulls users in through a kind of personality test, akin to the MMPI or Enneagram Test. The system then gives your answers for yourself to your online representative. Later, the system allows users to teach the bot in a classroom (essentially answering more questions or dictating specific question-response pairs). Of course, there are multiple ways of training ALICE as well, including inputting a potential dialogue and buying Wallace’s master list of keywords (Superbot, less than $1000). But these methods seem to be the most common starting places, and one appears to be a bit easier, even if it loses something in control.

The greater difference is not in the interface, so much as the output. MyCybertwin from the beginning marketed itself as a way to create a chatbot of you online (particularly in your MySpace page). ALICE follows the more traditional method of allowing you to create a fictional character.

Both these systems allow users to put themselves almost anywhere online from Second Life to MySpace and even the world of movie marketing.

Ready for its Closeup

Following in a the usual Holllywood chatbot aspirations, like ALICE in AI, MyCyberTwin has already signed on to pitch a movie, “Flatland,” based on Edwin A. Abbott’s 1884 novel. Ladd Ehlinger Jr., director of “Flatland,” has set up MyCyberTwin characters to help promote the DVD release. Visitors to the site can chat with the likes of A Square and Colonel Triangle. Of course, the ironies of giving partial chat capabilities to personified animated geometric shapes may say just as much about the current Turing-Test scores of chatbots as it does the endless adaptability of 19th-century fiction.

Curiously, this Prime Newswire article from Huntsville, Alabama offers “pornbots,” as an alias for chatbots “because they’re often employed by the adult entertainment industry.” This is the first time I have seen there reputation so sullied that they have become synonymous with porn — whereas, botmasters more generally discuss the sexual harassment of their bots. More curiously, they seem to take the title from the rest of the potential pornbots out there, examples readers will have little trouble Googling. Curiously, too, the word “chat,” which refers to their functionality, is equated with their explicit nature, as if the exchange system itself was somehow objectionable.

MyCyberTwin offers itself not as our Galatea, but as our very own chatting Dorian Gray simulation. It is a chatbot system of our times, a technological moment focused on the You(Tube) and the My(Space) to the mass entertainment of the the (del.icio.)US.

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