This sounds both amazing and implausible, and in fact I have a rather longer rant over in my secret RL weblog about it, but it turns out that there’s an SL component also:
According to Tom Soderstrom, IT CTO in the office of the CIO at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, the organisation has been using a CyberTwin in Second Life to man its presence there dedicated to the Phoenix Mars Lander spacecraft.
… and the MyCyberTwin website even gives the SLURL. Cool!
So I go over, and right near the landing point on Explorer Island, there was an obvious Phoenix Lander CyberTwin thing to chat with. And it worked! And it was obviously, well…
(It was also extremely slow, which is why I said hello twice; when I realized how slow it was I just lowered my response-time expectations.)
[16:27] Phoenix CyberTwin Activator: Now listening to Dale Innis. Click the board to end the conversation
[16:27] Dale Innis: Hi there!
[16:27] Dale Innis: Hello?
[16:27] Phoenix: Hey!
[16:28] Phoenix: Greetings Dale Innis!
[16:28] Dale Innis: So can you tell me things about the Phoenix Lander?
[16:28] Phoenix: I’m the Phoenix Lander; a spacecraft that touched down on the surface of Mars on May 25th, 2008. Do you have any other questions about my mission or what I’m up to here?
[16:28] Dale Innis: Yes, what is your mission?
[16:28] Phoenix: I’ve been using my robotic arm to dig trenches up to half a meter (1.6 feet) into the layers of ice, collecting samples that will be studied and will hopefully give us more information about the Martian environment.
[16:29] Dale Innis: Cool! Are you looking for life on Mars?
[16:29] Phoenix: I have instruments that may provide info about the possibility of life on Mars. I’ll be testing things like what has been preserved in the icy soil. Then we should have a good idea whether the environment has ever been favorable for life.
[16:29] Dale Innis: That’s really neat. How long will you be on Mars?
[16:29] Phoenix: I won’t ever return to earth as adding extra rockets to take off from Mars would have made me too heavy! I’m here for good!
[16:30] Dale Innis: How much do you weigh?
[16:30] Phoenix: I am very heavy! 664 kilograms (242 pound).. that’s a lot of lander!
[16:30] Dale Innis: Are there any other space ships on Mars?
[16:30] Phoenix: I love being on Mars. It’s a great planet! I’m looking forward to getting to explore the icy subsurface.
[16:30] Dale Innis: How do you explore the subsurface?
[16:30] Phoenix: I’m going to stay where I landed for the duration of my mission. I can’t take off again or move to a new spot.
[16:31] Dale Innis: Um, okay. What is the icy subsurface?
[16:31] Phoenix: You better believe it! We have found ice. WOOHOOO! Can you tell I’m just a little bit excited! This will provide us with much more info about the history of water on Mars and improve upon what we already know about this great planet.
[16:31] Dale Innis: So the subsurface is like underground ice?
[16:31] Phoenix: I hope you’ll celebrate with me because YAHOOOO, we found ice! I’ll collect and analyze more samples as my mission progresses that will hopefully give us even more information about the Martian environment.
[16:32] Dale Innis: Okay. Are there any other space ships there?
[16:32] Phoenix: I love being on Mars and carrying out such important work. It’s great reporting back to mission control about my findings.
[16:32] Dale Innis: Why is it so exciting to have found ice?
[16:32] Phoenix: You better believe it! We have found ice. WOOHOOO! Can you tell I’m just a little bit excited! This will provide us with much more info about the history of water on Mars and improve upon what we already know about this great planet.
[16:32] Dale Innis: You already said that.
[16:32] Phoenix: Thank you for telling me that. What else should I know? I feel like I’m a bit out of the loop, being so far away.
[16:33] Dale Innis: When is the next ship going to Mars?
[16:33] Phoenix: Mars is a cold, dry, desert landscape of sand and rocks. But maybe I can find microbial life…
[16:33] Dale Innis: okay, thanks.
[16:33] Phoenix: My pleasure.
[16:33] Phoenix CyberTwin Activator: No longer listening to Dale Innis
Starts out good, quickly goes downhill. The algorithm here is just doing the obvious pattern-matching, and it’s essentially stateless: if it finds a keyword (like “mars” or “ice” or “life” or “weigh”), it outputs some pre-canned text. It doesn’t even remember that it’s already used that “WOOHOO” line the first time I mentioned ice, so the second time I mention it, it just prints it again. The fact that I was asking why the ice is so exciting is completely lost on it.
And if I try to ask about something it doesn’t know about, like when the next ship to Mars is, or what “subsurface” means, it just says random stuff, depending on what keywords, if any, I happen to use.
It, most essentially, has in the most literal sense no idea what it is talking about. It is utterly trivial, with not the slightest hint of intelligence. So, sigh, it’s Eddie-the-bot again; a relatively trivial algorithm (more trivial than Eddie’s from this evidence), talked up as “intelligence” just because it sounds exciting.
There’s a Web version of the Personal MyCyberTwins that you can play with also; that’s where the adorable quote on the picture up there came from. A more extensive snippet:
Betty: Hi there Dale.
You: Hi! What is up?
Betty: Not much, What’s happening with you?
You: I just read about this “MyCyberTwin” thing in the internet, and I was curious about it.
Betty: The power of the internet is outstanding. It continues to grow and improve.
Betty: What was the last utterly selfish thing you bought for yourself?
You: Um, that’s sort of a personal question; probably this gaming laptop that I’m thinking about. :)
Betty: It’s good to talk to someone who is thinking at last.
Betty: I want to ask, what sort of people do you have as friends?
You: Nice people!
Betty: Yeah, thanks for making the effort with that response.
Betty: Do you have quirky obsessions that you never like to tell people about?
You: Why are you asking all these strange questions about me?
Betty: Why do you think I am?
You: Well in theory you could be trying to make a mental model of me. But I’m not sure that’s very likely! Is that it?
Betty: Well if you don’t know how do you expect me to?
You: Um, anyway… So what kinds of things do you know about? What is your area of expertise?
Betty: I am very smart and I know most things because I am a MyCyberTwin. Do you Dale?
You: You know most things? What is the airspeed of a swallow?
Betty: You are going to tell me I think.
Not tonight, Betty; not tonight…